A call to action: stop being a slacktivist—it’s time to update emoji to prevent emoji obsolescence! (Or: emoji serve inadvertently as a time capsule of the early 2000s.)

by worstideas


As time goes on, certain emoji will become obsolete. Some of them already have! Although this is not a huge problem right now, it may become one in the future: will anyone understand what the “pager” emoji means in 100 years?


Fig 1: In a hundred years, this pager icon will will baffle and befuddle all but the most erudite historians.

Fig 2: For people of the future, the pager icon will be as perplexing as this device probably is to you, unless you work in a historical re-creation village or something (This is an apple peeler.) Image citation.

The plan: periodically update emoji symbols

So we need to update our symbolic language to take into account the new technology.

Below are some examples of what emoji would have looked like if they had been created in years past.

These should serve as a cautionary tale and convince you of the necessity of occasional emoji symbol updates!


Fig 3: This figure should convince you of the necessity of occasional emoji updates. If the emoji in the right column had been created in ancient times and never updated, we would be stuck with the no-longer-representative icons in the left column. For example, we would still have to use the “plague doctor” icon to refer to medical professionals.


We may occasionally be able to predict certain aspects of the future and fix our soon-to-be-obsolete emoji ahead of time.

Future Emoji

Fig 4: Even in the early 2000s, we have the opportunity to add a few “for future use” emoji before we absolutely need them. Here are some examples of easy ones that are guaranteed to be correct. Also, we can probably remove emoji for most extinct animals in the future. Sorry, soon-to-be-extinct animals!

Possible Difficulty:

Due to the convergence of technology, sometimes multiple devices in the past will end up being the same icon in the modern era. For example, the camera, camcorder, phone, pager, fax machine, and computer have all been combined into the modern cell phone. It is unclear how to deal with this scenario in a satisfactory manner.

Convergent technological development

Fig 5: One issue with updating emoji is that multiple former-era-emoji may map to a single emoji in the current era, as seen above.


As usual, this is a great idea!

PROS: Prevents emoji from becoming confusing and obsolete.

CONS: May make old documents unreadable if old symbols are retired or replaced, and thus rarely or never encountered except by historians.

Sources of certain images: