/ Emojis are the new body language

Some argue that there are certain human emotions, phrases, and experiences that literally cannot be described in words. But can some of them—maybe—be described through emoji?

In 2018, we communicate via the written word far more than we ever have. Face-to-face communication is on the decline. People are comfortable texting and emailing at all hours, but many of us cringe at the idea of taking one phone call. A whole new set of social skills is developing, and many of them are digital.

Emoji were created in the late 1990s by a Japanese communications company, arrived in a standard keyboard to iOS 5 in 2011, and in 2017, over six billion emoji are sent out through smartphones every day. Susan Herring, a professor of information science and linguistics at Indiana University, called the age of the emoji a “new phase of language development.” As Vyvyan Evans put it, combined with language, “Emoji enable us to better express tone and provide emotional cues, and this enables us to better manage the ongoing flow of information, and to interpret what the words are meant to convey.”

While emoji don’t quite cut it as a fully self-contained language, they are particularly useful when words alone won’t hit the mark—or, perhaps, when using words would express more than we’re ready and willing to say. Today, emoji are frequently employed to replace, modify, or reinterpret linguistic communication, bringing Jean M. Twenge to the conclusion that “in the next decade, we may see more adults who know just the right emoji for a situation, but not the right facial expression.”

In 2016, Facebook introduced Reactions, a series of emoji-like options for every post—a feature that, to this writer, seems almost an exact replica of pain scale charts given to hospital patients. You can now ‘react’ to a Facebook post by clicking on the emoji it makes you feel. “How much does this post hurt?”, Facebook seems to ask—and it doesn’t expect an answer in words, just in emoji.

By one estimate, 70% of the meaning in our interactions with others is derived from nonverbal cues—such as body language, gestures, how close we stand to one another, and physical touch. Statistically, we are spending more time alone now than we ever have—talking aloud less, communicating textually more, staring at our screens. How exactly are we sending any kind of nonverbal, non-lingual cues? Right as technology threatened our ability to express emotion, we’ve activated another way of doing so: through emoji. (broken heart emoji?)

Google’s messaging app, Allo, turns your selfies into emoji stickers. The algorithms and machine-learning technologies that do so are reported to be incredibly powerful, with the ability to generate 563 quadrillion different faces. Google uses a computer program that simulates a human brain in order to build your face.

The iPhone 8 features the Animoji, which uses 3D face sensors to create custom 3D animated emoji based on your facial movements. The Animoji are described as custom animated messages that convey your voice through a digitization of your facial expression. And they’re created live right inside the messages app on your phone—the face-tracking 3D sensor hardware is able to pick up your facial expressions in real time and animate them on the spot. This feels simultaneously like a more human version of emoji and a more computerized version of a human being—the ability to send nonverbal communication through facial expressions, but those facial expressions through a moving, talking emoji version of the self.

Emoji are an entertaining, emotive set of symbols that help to describe things that can’t quite be written. Not a full-blown language—but close—emoji can often express what words cannot and what nonverbal cues always have. We can now match emoji to our faces, swapping them out for real face time. And as of 2017 and the iPhone 8, we can speak directly through the mouth of an emoji while it mimics our facial expressions itself. (shrugging girl emoji)

It’s not just emoji that are changing the way we interact with each other online and through text—it’s every platform emoji are used on, from Facebook down—and every piece of data collected on those platforms. Domo helps you create the ideal experience for every channel through live data, so you can shape your strategy by anticipating exactly what your audience will engage with next.