Emojis: Are they changing how we communicate with each other?

Emojis have become an virtual sensation and will even be the subject of a movie in 2017. But are they changing how we communicate with each other?

Digital trend of picture characters in text has become popular, but not everyone is a fan

The 'Face with tears of joy' emoji is one of the most popular emojis used. (Shutterstock)

Sometimes Aimée Morrison goes a little emoji-crazy. 

Morrison, who teaches new media studies at the University of Waterloo, is a big emoji enthusiast, frequently using the small digital images in her texts. 

"They fill a need we didn't know we had until we had the available means to fulfil it. Instead of laboriously typing out something that may not come out the way you intended, you can use emojis."

Aimee Morrison and her sister, Susannah, went a little emoji crazy in a texting conversation, using multiple emojis and even resorting to cat memes.

Emojis are a language that is a way of expressing yourself appropriate to text messages, she says. 

"It's another easy way to communicate informally. It just gives us another shortcut that also allows for creativity." 

The end of term at the southern Ontario university is coming up, so Morrison's favourite emojis right now are the punching fist, flexing bicep and the rage face. 

But not everybody shares Morrison's love of emojis. When Elspeth Cameron sees people using them, she gets irritated.

Cameron, a retired university English professor and author of seven books, including biographies of Canadian literary figures Irving Layton and Earle Birney, says she never uses emojis because she thinks they are replacing the use of words. 

As a writer and incessant reader, Cameron says she loves the English language.

"Instead of someone putting a frown at the end of a sad message, I'd much prefer that they tell me why they feel sad and what kind of sadness they feel," she says. "There are so many shades of sadness and different words to express these." 

But it would seem Cameron is in the minority. Around six billion emojis are sent on mobile messaging apps every day, according to Digiday, a media company that specializes in digital media.

Nearly half of the comments and captions on Instagram contain emojis, the company says.

It's an Instagram trend that has continued to rise since Apple introduced emojis to iOS in 2011. At that point, 10 per cent of text on Instagram contained emojis.

The trend continued to rise when Instagram was released for Android devices in 2012 and when Android added emoji support in July 2013. As of March 2015, almost 50 per cent of the text on Instagram contained emojis. 

Oxford Dictionaries even named the "Face with tears of joy" emoji the word of the year in 2015.

Major brands ‚ÄĒ¬†like McDonalds, Burger King,¬†Chevy, Dominos and others ‚ÄĒ¬†have started using emojis in their marketing techniques.

But emojis aren't without their criticism. The Always brand launched a campaign recently, targeting emojis as "stereotyping girls" by only portraying them as brides, cooks, dancers and other stereotypically female-only roles.  

Created in 1999 by Shigetaka Kurita, a Japanese economics student who worked for a cellphone operator, emojis didn't become a major trend until Apple released them on iOS 5 in 2011.

Powerful thoughts 

The use of emojis is "most definitely" changing the way we communicate virtually, says Travis Montaque, founder and CEO of Emogi.

But Montaque, who was named one of Forbes' top 30 under 30 in marketing and advertising for 2016, thinks it's a good change.

"Emojis are giving [people] a faster way to convey very powerful thoughts," he told CBC News.

In April 2015, Apple released more than 300 new emojis that are more inclusive, with some having different skin tones and depictions of families with two moms or two dads. (Associated Press)

Montaque doesn't think that emojis are dumbing down conversations, but says they provide clarity.

"With the rise of digital, the human element is not conveyed a lot of the time. So like an exclamation point or question mark, emojis are helping provide the tone [people] are trying to convey." 

Tyler Schnoebelen agrees. "There doesn't seem to be much evidence that emojis are or will ruin language," says the founder and chief analyst of Idibon, a text analytics company based in San Francisco. 

Schnoebelen, who has a PhD in linguistics from Stanford University, says the idea that emojis are dumbing down conversations comes from the perspective that new things and things young people do tend to be bad. 

"The truth is that there are some things you'd be hard pressed to do in a natural way without emojis," he said. "If you went through Twitter or your text messages and tried to rewrite without them, it would be difficult." 

Emojis can be used creatively just like words, said Morrison. 

"I have seen incredibly creative and witty or touching or sarcastic uses of emojis that are delightful in the way that a really poetic turn of phrase is delightful." 

Expressing ourselves   

People have embraced emojis not only because of how available they are, but also because emojis help them better communicate and be understood, says Montaque. 

Schnoebelen says one of the reasons emojis have become such a sensation is because communicating by text has become more and more a part of people's lives.

"We have found an increasing need to express ourselves better and emoji are a nice way of doing that."

The 'smiling poop emoji' is popular among smartphone users worldwide, but especially so with Canadians. According to a SwiftKey report, Canadians are twice as likely to use raunchy emojis in personal communications than residents of any other country. (

Not only are emojis not taking anything away from language, Schnoebelen says, but they are also adding something.

"They expand the way we communicate. That's one of the reasons they've taken off. It gives people an opportunity to be polite, to be funny. It gives people a chance to express themselves."  

Still, not everyone sees it that way. Cameron suggests emojis have become such a big trend because "everything is fast, fast, fast." 

"Fast food, fast communication, fast cars. Why not savour the moment? Take the time to tell your friends what you feel and think," she says.  

Oxford Dictionaries named the 'Face with tears of joy' emoji as its 2015 word of the year. They even had cake to celebrate. (Twitter/OxfordWords)

No matter the emotion elicited by emojis, they don't appear to be going anywhere anytime soon. Case in point, the characters are about to find a life beyond the small screens of cellphones. In 2015, Sony Pictures Animation won the bidding to make a feature animated film based on them.

The movie is due to be released in August 2017.