Whether you celebrate today with a happy face, a pair of raised hands, or a mere shrug, July 17 marks World Emoji Day.
World Emoji Day 2018 marks the fifth such celebration of emojis, which in less then two decades have gone from a marketing gimmick to a mode of communication that spans all languages.
According to emoji lore, emojis first appeared in Japan (where else?) in 1999, when a telecom company created 176 cartoon-like images for the text-based emoticons people had used on mobile devices to express basic emotions. They quickly caught on, as texting became a standard mode of communicating.
In 2009, emoji fans began translating Herman Melville’s Moby Dick into emojis. By 2015, the Oxford Dictionaries had chosen an emoji for its word of the year (“face with tears of joy”) and by 2017 most communication platforms employing emojis included a diversity pack to reflect different races and cultures that had adopted them.
World Emoji Day began in 2014 when users of Apple devices noticed that Apple’s calendar apps showed July 17 as the date on the calendar on its icon. A tweet appeared in July 2014 announcing the day as the official World Emoji Day. It has grown ever since, with more celebrations around the world happening each year.
On last year’s World Emoji Day, the Empire State Building was lit up in emoji yellow, and New York’s Museum of Modern Art staged an emoji exhibit, including a showing of the original 176 emojis that started it all.
Companies are using the day to promote their own offerings this year. Apple began celebrating World Emoji Day a day early, unveiling 70 new emojis coming to its platform later this fall. They include more expressive faces such as a cold face and a pleading face; animals such peacocks, lobsters, and kangaroos; and food such as mango and cupcakes. Apple also swapped out executive photos for emoji characters on its corporate leadership page.
But not everyone loves Apple’s use of emojis. Last week, people who tried to send texts with the Taiwan flag inside China on an iPhone found their devices crashing. A researcher discovered that iOS 11 code in China was blocking use of the flag emoji.
And for those who crave more data on emojis, Facebook has compiled some statistics on their usage on its various platforms. More than 700 million emojis are used in Facebook posts each day, with many more in texts. The tears-of-joy face remains popular as does the smiling face with heart eyes, but the birthday cake is trending this year.
Overall, Facebook notes, people are using the heart emoji twice as much this year.