2014 be­came the year of the emoji (tiny aubergine any­one?). Emoji, the on­line char­ac­ters that have re­placed the sim­ple smi­ley face, are tak­ing over our smart­phones. But why do we love emoji so much?

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Tom Ste­wart, a psy­chol­o­gist spe­cial­is­ing in peo­ple and tech­nol­ogy, sug­gests it’s be­cause they’re per­sonal: “Dig­i­tal com­mu­ni­ca­tion has a ten­dency to be im­per­sonal. Emoji are a way of mak­ing it more fun.”

He has a point. Even the phrase “dig­i­tal com­mu­ni­ca­tion” makes me think of HTML and cod­ing – in com­par­i­son emoji con­jure up warm, safe thoughts.

Any­one can use emoji, whether a tod­dler or pen­sioner. All you need is a sense of hu­mour and ap­pre­ci­a­tion for a ran­dom breaded prawn, or grumpy­faced moon.

Laura, 25, tells me that she and her best friend have a per­sonal re­la­tion­ship with the aubergine emoji. In­stead of say­ing “hey, how’s it go­ing?” or “I’m think­ing of you, hope all is well”, they can just send the tiny aubergine im­age.

They say a pic­ture says a thou­sand words. But an emoji? That speaks vol­umes. “If you try and ex­plain in words it might be five or six rather than one lit­tle squig­gle,” ex­plains Ste­wart.

“There’s quite a lot of them so you can use them for any oc­ca­sion. You can also say some­thing and put a smi­ley face at the end, mean­ing peo­ple will in­ter­pret it quite dif­fer­ently.

“In the UK we’re quite good at sar­casm and dry hu­mour. If you don’t have the con­text it can sound quite rude.”

Twit­ter users agree with this – they say that us­ing emoji stops them sound­ing overly sar­cas­tic, and it’s of­ten quicker than try­ing to ex­plain your­self through words. But what keeps crop­ping up among emoji lovers is that this is a way to be cre­ative.

We live in a world where tech­nol­ogy has made ev­ery­thing easy for us. We don’t even have to type – we can just dic­tate mes­sages into our smart­phones. But when it comes to emoji, you can’t just rely on your phone to pick out the best one; you have to do it your­self.

As Twit­ter user Rosie Trousers tells me: “They make dig­i­tal life more colour­ful and cre­ative.” In­stead of just bash­ing out a quick mes­sage, us­ing emoji means that you have to spend time look­ing through the images, and you can try and chal­lenge your­self by be­ing cre­ative with them.

It’s now common for peo­ple to write out en­tire songs or films us­ing emoji (a friend once sent me Les Mis­er­ables in emoji for­mat), and their friends guess what it is they’ve cre­ated us­ing the pic­tures. There are even blogs ded­i­cated to this, such as emo­ji­lyrics.tum­

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