Emoji, in other words, are a roundabout way to generate fellow feeling. And sure enough, this report starts with a clap—the applause hands emoji, to be precise. Applause hands was one of the original emoji available to iPhone users, and one of the symbols that bridged the gap between emoji and the more primitive emoticon.
A brief history: Emoji were born out of emoticons, but emoji experts are careful to distinguish between them. iEmoji, a forum dedicated to the little pictures, defines emoticons as "user-created images from text so the possible combinations is infinite" (sic), like :-) or :-(. Emoji, meanwhile, are characters: "codes meant to be read and transferred by computers then decoded into pre-defined images users can see." There is an endless number of emoticons, but a limited number of emoji.
The smiley is the first known emoticon, created in 1982 by Scott Fahlman, a Carnegie Mellon University researcher. But the emoji didn’t come along until much later: Shigetaka Kurita invented the first one in 1999 while working at NTT Docomo, the primary mobile phone operator in Japan.
NTT Docomo first began experimenting with emojis in 1995, when they added a heart symbol to their pagers. In 1999, Kurita became the first official emoji designer, developing the concept while working on the i-mode project, "the world’s first major mobile Internet system." He told The Wall Street Journal his original designs were inspired by manga, Chinese characters and street signs: The first outcome of this inspiration included happy and sad faces, a music note, a punch, and a kiss. Kurita was never able to patent his creation and emojis slowly creeped onto other development platforms, becoming increasingly more complex and realistic.
Though they have been around for the last 15 or so years, emoji was introduced to American audiences in 2010-2011. That was when the Unicode Consortium released hundreds of emoji in Version 6.0 of their ubiquitous standard. Unicode is the standard for sharing computer text digitally. Several months later, Apple’s iOS 5 was launched, which included an emoji keyboard. (Again, this is for American audiences: The Verge has found Japanese users who integrated Japanese telecom firm Softbank's emoji into iOS 2.2.)
Ram Menon, CEO of Avaamo, a business-specific emoji app, considers humanity's brief foray into the written word stranger than the whole-hearted adoption of the emoji.
"We have been communicating with pictures since the beginning of time, and we lost that for some time. Now, writing is almost non-existent, and we are moving to typing," he told me. "Every group has their own lingua franca."
Just like when your parents started saying "YOLO" or "Word," the White House is trying to be cool, catching up on the hip, young lingo, or lack of lingo in this case.