Emojis aren’t just symbols. They’re symbolic.

Anneliese Herbosa
4 min readJul 18, 2016

What’s the Emoji for ‘21st Century communication vehicle’?

Today marks World Emoji Day. Or, as I would put it, “ 🎉 🌍 😃 📅 ”. When I first heard that this day was indeed a thing, half of me was like 😯 while the other half eventually felt 😏. Though, it doesn’t strike me that Emojis have become a universal language embraced by those spread across every corner of the world.

EMOJI IRL. LOL. By Liza Nelson

Last week, a co-worker and I took an online Slack discussion offline to chat IRL about our use of Reacjis (‘reaction Emojis’) and what they mean in different productivity contexts — some self-evident, others carrying more context than either of us would have expected.

“The ✅ means I’ve completed something. It could also be me saying, yep I’m on it, I’m all over it, igotchu.”

“I use 👍 to convey that I am in agreement with you, and that whatever you put forward sounds good to me.”

“Offline, I use fist bumps to express encouragement. Online, I treat 👊 all the same. Did we crush a goal? Did someone on the team get past a hurdle?”

“The ‘OK hand’ means far more than just okay to me. It means A-OK. In fact, it means perfection in the specific context it lives in.” 👌

As we discussed further, we started to uncover the various nuanced meanings and intentions that a single Emoji could bear. What one person could mean through one Emoji can be different from the next person.

At work, it’s important to have a mutual understanding of the modes of communication you decide to use so that you as a team can be on the same wavelength when it comes to seamless internal comms.

At home, I come across a video series of Jimmy Kimmel demystifying pop cultural events through Emoji storytelling. I find myself going down the rabbit hole of other related videos such as those of celebrities reflecting back on their most recently used Emojis. I decide to conduct the same exercise and try to unearth the meaning behind each of my recently used Emojis; each trigger various back stories — some generic and standard, while others extremely niche.

Emojis are ultimately another form of expression. Just as your use of an Emoji can say so much about your message, your communication style, and even so far as the person (or brand) that you are, Emojis in general say a lot about the 21st century modes of communication as we know it. (Sound dramatic? I thought so too until I stumbled across this essay 📃 and this paper 📜) 😳 … 😎

Emojis used to come as secondary; it would append a message, or merely supplement the bulk of the content. Through things like Reacjis on Slack Reactions on Facebook, Kimoji and Justmoji respectively, Emojis are quickly making their way to the forefront of our ever-evolving communication media landscapes.

Emojis signal higher than ever before. They are not mere symbols; they are symbolic to our ever-changing ways in communication.

When rendered speechless, text-less, video-less, GIF-less, or meme-less, it is sometimes an Emoji that can say everything that needs to be said. It can stand on its own without any other contextual forms of communication attached to it.

The effect that Emojis have on the way we express ourselves and interact with one another stretches far beyond our keyboards and transcends our screens. As Marshall McLuhan said, “…the medium is the message…” and in this case, the granularity and complexity of language speaks volumes of the modern day communicator and its evolving forms of communication.

I’m deeply intrigued by the increasing reappropriation of Emojis as they continue to impact consumerism, editorial, content marketing, and everything in between. I look forward to seeing how they continue to inject themselves into society, culture, and shabby brand attempts at being ‘hip and cool’. (Ok, that last one not so much. 💩)

Word count: 780 | Emoji count: 18



Anneliese Herbosa

Hyperconscious Millennial. Tech & pop culture enthusiast. Passionate about personal growth. ✨ annelieseherbosa.com