Emojitracker is, in theory, a database that tracks the emojis people use, in real time, on Twitter. Emojitracker is in practice, however, even more than an offering of information, a work of art. Spanning 10 columns across, and many, many rows down, the site dynamically sorts the pictograms that have thus far been standardized into the digital lexicon: As people publish emojis, at a general rate of hundreds every second, the boxes containing the emojis flash. The usage tallies printed next to the emojis flutter. The effect is mesmerizing. On Emojitracker, the joy-teared face twinkles. So does, just below it, the face twisted in agony. And the party hat, and the pizza, and the cat with the heart eyes, and the heart on its own, and the heart that is broken: There they are, all together, shimmering at the touch of distant fingers, filling the spaces where words are too much or not quite enough.
At the moment, there are 2,666 emojis in the Unicode Standard, additions to the original 176 that were designed by Shigetaka Kurita, on behalf of the Japanese telecom NTT DoCoMo, in the late 1990s. The pictograms he chose for that purpose were generally intended to be lighthearted—food, sports, a rocket ship, the stuff of lols and whimsy—and they were quickly adopted, in Japan and beyond, as colorfully cheeky augmentations to text of black and white. Over the nearly 20 years of emojis’ existence, though—as with so many other things in the digital world—the dynamics of scale have taken what was once merely playful and made it immensely powerful. The more regularly we far-flung humans are using emojis as an extension of verbal language—the more the boxes of Emojitracker shimmer and shine—the more these cartoonish pictographs will adopt a responsibility: to reflect life as people actually live it, and to represent people in all their weird and magical complexity.