Das MoMA New York hat Shigetaka Kuritas 176 Original Emoji von 1999 ihrer Sammlung hinzugefügt. Nach dem @-Zeichen vor sechs Jahren ihre nächste Unicode-Addition.
From its founding in 1991 by the Japanese national carrier Nippon Telegraph and Telephone, NTT DOCOMO was at the forefront of the burgeoning field of mobile communications. In keeping with Japan’s longstanding pioneering role in technological adoption, Japanese tech companies, and NTT DOCOMO in particular, were ahead of the curve in incorporating mobile Internet capabilities into cell phones. Early mobile devices, however, were rudimentary and visually unwieldy, capable of receiving only simple information about weather forecasts and basic text messaging. For the revolutionary “i-mode” mobile Internet software NTT DOCOMO was developing, a more compelling interface was needed. Shigetaka Kurita, who was a member of the i-mode development team, proposed a better way to incorporate images in the limited visual space available on cell phone screens. Released in 1999, Kurita’s 176 emoji (picture characters) were instantly successful and copied by rival companies in Japan. Twelve years later, when a far larger set was released for Apple’s iPhone, emoji burst into a new form of global digital communication.
Emoji tap into a long tradition of expressive visual language. Images and patterns have been incorporated within text since antiquity. From ancient examples to, more recently, the work of creative typesetters, these early specimens functioned as a means of augmenting both the expressive content of the text and the overall aesthetic quality of the printed page — and in some cases the icons were the language. With the advent of email in the 1970s and the subsequent evolution of concise, almost telegraphic correspondence, the conveyance of tone and emotion became both harder and more urgently important. Beginning in the 1980s, computer users in the West began composing emoticons to create simple faces out of preexisting glyphs — the ubiquitous smiley face :) is an example. In Japan, the larger character set necessitated by the language allowed for even more complicated images, giving rise to kaomoji, or picture faces, such as the now common shruggy: ¯\_(ツ)_/¯. When combined with text, these simple images allow for more nuanced intonation. Filling in for body language, emoticons, kaomoji, and emoji reassert the human in the deeply impersonal, abstract space of electronic communication.