An emoji keyboard from an iPhone. Image: Screenshot
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How to stop feeling left out when other people talk about emoji

A short guide to the way the kids are talking theses days.

It has come to my attention that when I wrote about emoji earlier this week there are some people who are still not entirely sure what they are nor how to get them. (Read: my editor.)

The simplest explanation for emoji is that they're a bit like emoticons - :) :D ;) etc. - but better. They evolved from Japanese emoticons and ASCII art (that is, pictures made with letters, like this) in the late 1990s, and the modern emoji library is considered to have been invented by Shigetaka Kurita. He was working for a mobile phone company called Docomo, and worked on them partly because he thought that there was a gap in the market for a new kind of electronic communication that wasn't as formal as the emerging e-mail format. The word emoji means "picture character".

There's a really great history of Kurita and his emoji work at The Verge that goes into how the popularity of emoji meant that they quickly became a national, then international, sensation - eventually included in the Unicode library, which standardises text characters across computers and networks - but there's one key passage I want to quote here:

Faced with few options, he grabbed some paper and a pencil, gathered his team, and, without really knowing what he was doing, got to work. He aimed to create a complete set of 176 12-pixel by 12-pixel characters that could cover the entire breadth of human emotion."

While he may not have quite succeeded in representing the entire breadth, he did do an admirable job. Yet it isn't his emoji set that most people would now recognise as the definitive emoji set, because the popularity of emoji outside of Japan - and their use internationally - is down to Apple's decision to include support for its own emoji font library (Apple Color Emoji) in iOS 5, the iPhone update that came out in 2011. It's given us the emoji icons many of us have come to know and love, from dancing lady (💃) to smiling pile of poop (💩).

Emoji have come to represent a kind of new slang vernacular for many people. It's not that they're forming a proper transnational language that everyone with an iPhone can understand, but they do form a new kind of language among friends and social groups who get used to texting or tweeting or emailing or whatever each other with the help of familiar little symbols. It's a bit like the emergence of txt spk 15 or so years ago, when people started playing around with how to say as much as possible with as few words as possible; or, it's young people spontaneously finding an answer to those debates about whether English needs a "sarcasm symbol" or any other new punctuation.

This is how the US Library of Congress came to accept Emoji Dick, or, the Whale (yes, Moby Dick retold through emoji). It is also why, as with txt spk, old grumps find it an excuse to get grumpy about change they don't like nor understand.

If you want in on the emoji fun, then, here's how:

For iPhone users

  1. Go to "Settings", then "General", then "Keyboard"
  2. Go to "Keyboards", then "Add new keyboards"
  3. Find and choose "Emoji"

That's all there is to it. Now whenever the keyboard comes up to type something, there should be a new button that looks a bit like a globe to the left of the space bar. Tap that to get emoji characters.

For Android users

There's a default emoji library that looks very different to Apple's, which is included in most versions of Android. It's not very good. Instead:

  1. Go to the Play Store and search for "Emoji Keyboard", download and install it
  2. Go to "Settings", then "Language and keyboard"
  3. Find "Emoji Keyboard" on the list of keyboards and tick the box next to it

Then when typing, tap and hold down on a dialogue box - it will bring up a list that lets you choose which input method you want to use. Choose emoji and then there should be a smiley face button next to the keyboard, which toggles letter and emoji like on an iPhone.

For Chrome users

This isn't quite the same as getting an emoji keyboard as on a smartphone, but Chrome users can stop seeing emoji as either plain boxes or black and white boring Unicode pictures with a plugin.

  1. Download this plugin from the Chrome Store
  2. You can now see emoji rendered as they are on iPhones, and also - usefully - copy and paste them

Ian Steadman is a staff science and technology writer at the New Statesman. He is on Twitter as @iansteadman.

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Chuka Umunna calls for "solidarity" among Labour MPs, whoever is voted leader

The full text of shadow business secretary Chuka Umunna's speech to Policy Network on election-winning ideas for Labour's future, and the weaknesses of the New Labour project.

There has never been an easy time to be a social democrat (or “democratic socialist” as we sometimes call ourselves in Britain). Whereas the right can demonise the poor and extol the virtues of the market, and the hard left can demonise the market and extol the role of the state, our position of constraining the domination of markets and reforming the state is, by definition, more complex.

It is nonetheless the case that social democracy has a historic responsibility, in every generation, to renew democracy and preserve a civic culture. This is achieved not through soundbites and slogans, but through the hard-headed development of a progressive politics that reconciles liberty and democracy, new comers and locals to our communities, business and workers, in a common life that preserves security, prosperity and peace.  This historic mission is all the more urgent now and my determination that we succeed has grown not weakened since our election defeat last May.

But, in order to be heard, it is necessary to make balanced and reasonable argument that both animates and inspires our movement, and which is popular and plausible with the people.  The first is pre-requisite to the second; and there is no choice to be made between your party’s fundamental principles and electability. They are mutually dependent - you cannot do one without the other.

We are in the midst of choosing a new leader and it is clear to anyone who has watched the UK Labour Party leadership election this summer that amongst a significant number there is a profound rage against Third Way politics – as pursued by the likes of Bill Clinton, Tony Blair, Gerhard Schröder and others - as a rejection of our fundamental values.

In the UK there is a view that New Labour accepted an uncritical accommodation with global capital that widened inequality, weakened organised labour and we were too close to the US Republicans and too far from the European left.

I do not believe this is fair, not least because we rescued many of our public services from the scrap heap when we came to office in 1997 and there were very significant achievements  we should celebrate.  New Labour renewed our National Health Service in a fundamental way; we built new schools and improved existing ones; we set up new children’s centres all over the country; we brought in a National Minimum Wage; we worked with others to bring peace to Northern Ireland; we introduced civil partnerships.  Just some of our achievements.

However, though we may take issue with the critique, I do not think we can simply dismiss out of hand those who hold critical views of New Labour. Like any government, the New Labour administration made mistakes - it could and should have achieved more, and done more to challenge the Right’s assumptions about the world. In the end, it is not unreasonable to be ambitious for what your party in government can achieve in building greater equality, liberty, democracy and sustainability. It is far better we acknowledge, not reject, this ambition for a better world, as we seek to forge a new politics of the common good fit for the future.

Realising our values in office has been disrupted by globalisation and the surge of technological forces that are displacing and reshaping industry after industry.

Some argue that globalisation as an ideological construct of the right. But we must recognise that we live in an increasingly integrated world in which markets have led to an unprecedented participation of excluded people in prosperity, a rise in living standards for hundreds of millions  of people and a literacy unprecedented in human history – this is particularly so in emerging economies like my father’s native Nigeria. And the internet has led to a level of accountability that has disturbed elites.

Yet, this has been combined with a concentration of ownership that needs to be challenged, of a subordination of politics that requires creative rather than reactive thinking, and these global forces have exacerbated inequalities as well as helped reduce poverty.

So it is important that we understand the sheer scale and impact of new technologies. At the moment we are engaged in a debate about Uber and its threat to one of the last vestiges of vocational labour markets left in London, those of the black taxi cabs and their attainment of 'The Knowledge'. But the reality is that within the next decade there will be the emergence of driverless cars so we have to intensify our exploration of how to support people in a knowledge economy and the realities of lifelong learning, as well as lifelong teaching. As people live longer we will have to think about how to engage them constructively in work and teaching in new ways.

Once again, I'm addressing all of this, Social Democracy requires a balanced view that domesticates the destructive energy of capital while recognising its creative energy, that recognises the need for new skills rather than simply the protection of old ones. A Social Democracy that recognises that internationalism requires co-operation between states and not a zero sum game that protectionism would encourage.

Above all, Social Democratic politics must recognise the importance of place, of the resources to be found in the local through which the pressures of globalisation can be mediated and shaped. Our job is to shape the future and neither to accept it as a passive fate nor to indulge the fantasy that we can dominate it but to work with the grain of change in order to renew our tradition, recognising the creativity of the workforce, the benefits of democracy and the importance of building a common life.  Sources of value are to be found in local traditions and institutions.

This also requires a recognition that though demonstration and protest are important,; but relationships and conversations are a far more effective way of building a movement for political change.

One of the huge weaknesses of New Labour was in its reliance on mobilisation from the centre rather than organising. It therefore allowed itself to be characterised as an elite project with wide popular support but it did not build a base for its support within the party across the country, and it did not develop leaders from the communities it represented. It was strong on policy but weak on strengthening democratic politics, particularly Labour politics.

Over half a million people are now members, supporters or affiliated supporters of our party, with hundreds of thousands joining in the last few weeks. Some have joined in order to thwart the pursuit of Labour values but many more have joined to further the pursuit of those values, including lots of young people. At a time when so many are walking away from centre left parties across the Western world and many young people do not vote let alone join a party, this is surely something to celebrate.

So it is vital that we now embrace our new joiners and harness the energy they can bring to renewing Labour’s connection with the people. First, we must help as many them as possible to become doorstep activists for our politics. Second, I have long argued UK Labour should campaign and organise not only to win elections but to affect tangible change through local community campaigns. We brought Arnie Graf, the Chicago community organiser who mentored President Obama in his early years, over from the U.S. to help teach us how to community organise more effectively. We should bring Arnie back over to finish the job and help empower our new joiners to be the change they want to see in every community – we need to build on the links they have with local groups and organisations.

I mentioned at the beginning that in every generation Social Democracy is besieged from left and right but the achievements of each generation are defined by the strength of a complex political tradition that strengthens solidarity through protecting democracy and liberty, a role for the state and the market and seeks to shape the future through an inclusive politics. Solidarity is key which is why we must accept the result of our contest when it comes and support our new leader in developing an agenda that can return Labour to office.

Yes, these are troubled times for social democrats. All over Europe there is a sense among our traditional voters that we are remote and do not share their concerns or represent their interests or values.  There is surge of support for populist right wing parties from Denmark to France, of more left wing parties in Greece and Spain and in Britain too. There is renewal of imperial politics in Russia, the murderous and abhorrent regime of ISIL in the Middle East, volatility in the Chinese economy and in Europe a flow of immigration that causes fear and anxiety.

But, the task of Social Democracy in our time is to fashion a politics of hope that can bring together divided populations around justice, peace and prosperity so that we can govern ourselves democratically. We have seen worse than this and weathered the storm. I am looking forward, with great optimism to be being part of a generation that renews our relevance and popularity in the years to come.

Chuka Umunna is the shadow business secretary and the Labour MP for Streatham.