Thing 5 – Diversity

Thing 5 – Diversity

January 22, 2019 0 By JR

This week’s first thing is about diversity, in particular, representative avatars through unicode (emojis) and images (bitmoji). I have to admit I was probably late to the game in finding out the new emojis had come out from Apple as the functionality was added through “press and hold”, and the time it took me to learn the keyboard had that functionality for a bunch of things is a little embarrassing. After reading the articles, I can understand the worry about how the inclusion of such emojis as a way to further entrench and express prejudice. That, however, does not seem to be the case in my circles (although I admit that it may very well be present and no one has mentioned it). My experience in observing the use of the new emojis aligns more with the results of the article:

Roberston, A., Madgdy, W, and Goldwater, S. (2018). Self-Representation on Twitter Using Emoji Skin Color Modifiers, School of Informatics, University of Edinburgh

where users use the new skin tones and new emojis as a mode of self-representation and expression. On the whole it seems to be a positive, but again I admit that it’s not specifically come up as a deep discussion F2F. In terms of self-expression, the default emojis leave some room for improvement. Even I can’t always find the icon I would like, but given how involved it is to create an official emoji I can see why there isn’t one for EVERY situation. If you haven’t heard about the process before, 99% Invisible has a great podcast episode about the creation of the lotus position emoji. As I read through the articles, and the types of emojis created, I couldn’t help but think of the teams that created them. There are a lot of stories about a lack of diversity in Silicon Valley development teams, and the following quote from the Guardian reading struck a chord with me,

Miltner says we need to think beyond binary interpretations of gender and race, especially in technologies that – however “cute” or “silly” – are used by millions of people worldwide.

“It behooves us all to acknowledge the power and politics that are involved in the formation of widely used technologies, especially if we are to move beyond the ‘default’ and towards more inclusivity.”

– The Guardian

Overall, hopefully this was actually a step in the right direction and that concerns about these won’t go unheard, but rather will be taken up by the development teams.

In addition to questions of diversity, emojis certainly call effective communication into question, a point that a few of the articles touch on as well. I can think back to when I first registered for an ICQ account (IM program) and finding out pretty quickly that reading tone in messages was very difficult. Not only that, but people I was chatting with all of a sudden had this whole new vocabulary of LOLs and BRBs. Prior to emojis there were all kinds of variations on smileys as well, many of which I still find myself using rather than the unicode element. The use of emojis I find even more confusing at times today. For example, there are all these different coloured hearts. So when I see a comment on an Instagram post that uses a black heart or a yellow heart, it can be difficult to interpret. I looked it up and there are different explanations of all the different heart emojis. I also imagine, depending on the cultural context they could mean something different, even within a single country, or between English speakers. That is where I think bitmoji kind of helps a little. It places the avatar in some context, and gives them a range of expressions. I don’t use it personally, but a handful of people I know do, so occasionally my SMS or IMs is graced with a very expressive character that captures and communicates what they mean to say.

I think at one time the general assumption of the public was that video calls and video messages would completely replace all other modes of communication. I find it interesting that SMS and IM have stayed relatively true to textbased communication with the injection of unicode emojis and occassionally bitmojis. What I actually find more common than the latter is the use of animated GIFs to communicate particular feelings. They still aren’t used in my day to day communications too often, but they really pack a lot of communication of feeling and intent when they’re present.


Photo by Bernard Hermant on Unsplash