As more of our communication takes place on this plain, colorless form, it's no surprise that people have begun to seek ways to flesh it out with some character. One increasingly popular way to do that is by using Emoji.
The emoticon-style set of graphical icons has actually been around for awhile. Young people and women in Japan have been actively using Emoji since the 1990s, says Mimi Ito, a cultural anthropologist at the University of California, Irvine. In recent months, it has begun to catch on with Western users, fueled in part by the inclusion of an Emoji keyboard in the latest version of iOS.
"It's not accidental that Emoji developed and became popular in Japan, where there is a history of pictorial communication because of the use of Chinese characters," Ito says. "It was the convergence of this linguistic history with the widespread adoption of text messaging that gave rise to Japan's unique Emoji culture."