How Apple made us all talk 'emoji'
On World Emoji Day, we look at how California’s free-spirited culture gave rise to the new way of communicating
Apple, as many tech commentators put it, doesn’t invent new products so much as popularise and innovate underappreciated ones. Nowhere is this clearer than in the history of the emoji, as our book, California: Designing Freedom explains.
“Originating on Japanese mobile phones in the late 1990s,” says the book, “emojis go global when Apple incorporates them into iOS 5 [released October 2011]. In a few years an initial library of just over 200 evolves into almost a thousand. We now speak in pictures.”
And yet, speaking in pictures rather than words was something explored by an earlier Californian visionary, as our book argues.
“No portal has been more important to California Dreaming in the past fifty years than that explored by transplant Aldous Huxley, an Englishman who relished Los Angeles’ noonday sun,” writes the UCLA professor Peter Lunenfeld. “When he took a trip north to [influential alternative education institute] Esalen in the mid-1960s, Huxley famously lectured about passing through ‘The Doors of Perception’.”
Lunenfeld does not focus on Huxley’s role as a psychedelic evangelist, more as a new media prophet. “He called for the development of ‘nonverbal humanities and within half-a -century California-designed smartphones and California-organized social networks do not just encourage, but demand, that we communicate with icons and filters and images – emojis, thumbs-up ‘likes’ and face swaps are nothing if not non-verbal."
Regardless of whether emojis were predicted by Huxley, or first built by Japanese coders, the Golden State certainly seems to be these bright little characters’ natural home.
For more on the West Coast's influence on the rest of the world order a copy of California: Designing Freedom here.