I Insist That Skin Tone Diversity in Emoji Is Great News

In the new Unicode Technical Report #51, the Unicode Consortium has at last defined a method for representing a range of skin tones in emoji. A “skin tone modifier” that lets the user modify the skin color of emoji before sending has been proposed for the upcoming Unicode 8.0 version.

The mobile OS companies — Apple, Google, Microsoft et al. — would still have to incorporate these changes into their own character sets, but representatives of Apple and Google are listed as editors of the new report, so that’s a likely sign that both iOS and Android will support it.

I am genuinely overjoyed by this news. Seriously.

The major problem with emoji conversation — aside from the outrageous lack of a robot, cheese, or avocado — has been representation of specific people. The range of available faces is surprisingly useful, as long as either white-as-in-White-People or Simpsons-yellow skin is assumed as the default. (And what’s the emoji prejudice against purple people, anyway, huh? Why does the purple smiley have to have devil horns and eyes?) There are two existing non-white human face emoji, but they’re… problematic. But soon we’ll be able to represent the wide range of emoji expressions across the range of human skin tones, and that’s long overdue.

Seriously, I’m psyched about this!

Have you ever tried to have a conversation with someone using only emoji? It’s amazing. (There’s an iOS app for this, in fact. Add me. I’m 🔥🎶) It takes a few exchanges to get someone’s idiom, but then profound communication without words becomes possible. And think about it: it’s a universal language. The native language of the person on the other side is irrelevant, and you can still get pretty deep given the symbolic range of the character set.

As I was writing the book, I encountered strong resistance amongst my more hardcore-mindfulness editors to anything I wrote in celebration of text messages, especially involving emoticons. They would come back at me with articles as counter-evidence to my arguments, trying to convince me that texting is a scourge of distraction and disembodiment. But I held the line. I think texting is a beautiful form of communication, and emoji add a new dimension to the range of expression.

It’s interruption that’s the problem, threats to attention. But I think mindfully texting with someone — even several someones at once! — is a way of being together at a distance. Surely you’ve had at least a text conversation or two that was meaningful enough to keep for posterity. Why not celebrate that? It has emotional value, and it even can tend towards literary value! (I called texting a literary genre in some draft of the book, and that was over the line. They made me take it out. 💂.)

Read more at Unicode.org