The Unicode Consortium released two hundred fifty new emoji yesterday. Despite seemingly universal consensus that emoji characters ought to include more racial diversity, this new set doesn’t add very much at all.
That disappointment aside, here’s something sort of great about this new release. Every year, the various traditional dictionaries add new tech words to their lexicon (“Did you hear that Merriam-Webster will include ‘selfie’ now?”) and everyone feels justifiably embarrassed about the squareness of it all. Part of what makes those stories feel silly is that the dictionaries are granting internet slang an official imprimatur that it doesn’t need and didn’t ask for.
Emoji language updates are the exact opposite of that. The charm of Emoji is that rather than giving us words or symbols to describe our experience, it gives us a bunch of mostly random pictographs, and we have to invent ways to use them in a way that makes meaning. Emoji’s charm is in how broken and inadequate it is. So while it truly sucks that these new Emoji are mostly as lily white as the ones we already had, I am excited to see how people make use of “Derelict House Building” “Heart With Tip On The Left” and “Notched Right Semicircle With Three Dots” Nobody asked for these symbols, but we’ll figure out what they mean.
PS. The reason that the Unicode Consoritum gets to decide what Emojis we’ll have (rather than say, our phone company) is that they’re responsible for maintaining a standard that will work across all the different operating systems. If Apple went rogue and added new Emoji on their own, those symbols wouldn’t necessarily display on an Android phone. That’s why Emoji change happens at such a glacial pace.