Emoji on Display in NY Museum of Modern Art

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October 28, 2016

Emoji are going to MoMa.

The pictographs now so familiar to users of portable phones and tablets will be on display at New York's Museum of Modern Art from December, in a permanent exhibit on graphics and animation.

First appearing in 1999, emoji were the brainchild of Shigetaka Kurita, on behalf of the Japanese mobile phone carrier NTT DoCoMo. The first emoji, a set of 176, were simple in nature because cell phones in those days could handle only simple line drawings. The initial set included basic drawings of weather symbols, modes of transportation, zodiac signs, sports, symbols of food and drink, suits of playing cards, methods of communication, and even animals (not to mention the most popular emoji of all time, the smiling face).

The idea was to convey a feeling or a weather forecast or some sort of abstract concept as an image that could be understand even if the receiver of that image didn't understand the words around it. Emoji lists also included more tangible things like buildings and cars and types of food and drink, that cell phone users could use as shorthand. Users found it time-saving to press just one button on the phone to produce a symbol that represented a word or a concept that, typed, would have contained many more letters.

Google offered emoji in its Gmail system as early as 2006; but it wasn't until 2011, when Apple added them to the functionality of the iPhone, that emoji use took off around the world. Android phones soon had them, and the number of emoji has grown steadily since. Today's emoji are more complex in construction and more varied in scope. One estimate lists the total as more than 1,800.

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