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Ideas | Mea Dols de Jong

Why are emojis so popular?

EMOJIS ORIGINATED IN Japan, where they were already wildly popular while the rest of the world was still fumbling with emoticons like ;-) and :-(

In 2011, Apple, rolled out emojis on their devices internationally and before we knew it, emojis exploded in our everyday digital communication.

Why did they become so popular?

It’s because emojis are the digital equivalent of body language, says Vyvyan Evans, a professor of linguistics and an expert on language and digital communication. In the real world, only 30 percent of our face-to-face interactions rely on actual words, the rest is body language, according to Evans.


“Emoji is the body language of the digital age,” Evans says. “It really is a form of digital communication replicating and catching up with actual real life communication.”

That explains why you shouldn’t consider emojis a technical language, or even be afraid of emojis replacing the language of Shakespeare. “The allegation that emoji is dumbing down communication fundamentally misrepresents the way communication works and is a form of cultural elitism,” says Evans. “Emoji is not dumbing down communication, it’s enhancing digital communication and it’s simply replicating what we already do in spoken face to face interaction: voice, gestures and body language.”

READ MORE: A look inside the mysterious group that approves your emojis

Mea Dols de Jong is a documentary filmmaker based in Amsterdam and was a 2019 Nieman Fellow at Harvard. Her documentary “Beyond Emoji” can be found on the VPRO Documentary YouTube channel. Send comments to