So far in this series we’ve seen how emoji were created in Japan, how they made their way into the wider world, and who takes responsibility for them now they’re free to range across our screens. Aside from mentions in a few tech news outlets, however, emoji’s early life went largely unreported. The mainstream media prefers a juicier drama and, in this article, we’ll take a look at some of the stories that have seen emoji riding high — and low — in the press.
As we saw in part 1, emoji did not arise in a vacuum. In designing his suite of icons, Shigetaka Kurita selected subjects that would be both recognisable and useful in the context of NTT DOCOMO’s new mobile internet service. Smiling faces (😊) and broken hearts (💔) conveyed emotion; trains (🚆) and planes (✈️) called up ticket booking services; videogame controllers (🎮) denoted mobile games; and so on. But the way in which emoji were and are presented — embedded among our letters and words while simultaneously being distinct from them — has always been as important as their content. In this respect, emoji owe as much to ancient scrolls, medieval books and typewriters as they do to pagers and mobile phones.
In the wake of my last post (Miscellany № 79: jè?), I was doing a bit of digging into the history of emoticons — those recumbent smileys used to signify happiness (
:)), sadness (
:(), mehness (
:|) and so on — when I came across Scott Fahlman’s personal website. Fahlman is the man famous for inventing the emoticon and, although I’ve written about him before, both here and in the Shady Characters book, in both cases I skated over the exact circumstances of his invention because, well, I didn’t know what they were. Having found his webpage at Carnegie Mellon University, however, I now find that the whole story has been there for the reading for a decade or more!
A true miscellany for your perusal this week! On with the show.
First, a punctuation story that self-destructed almost as soon as it appeared. In mid-April, Levi Stahl, a publicity manager at the University of Chicago Press, posted to his blog about “The first emoticon?”. Stahl had come across a familiar-looking pairing of ‘:)’ in a 1648 edition of a poem by Robert Herrick. The lines in question went as follows: