Emoji Revolution: Overcoming the Disconnect of Literacy Technology

At first glance, lines etched into stone tablets bear little resemblance to modern writing.  Yet, as Baron explains in his article “From Pencils to Pixels: the Stages of Literacy Technology,” these mysterious marks represent the dawn of literacy technology and the progression from invention to acceptance which for thousands of years have accompanied developments in communication sciences.  Beyond sharing these stages, all literacy technologies create a disconnect between intended meaning and the transmitted message.  As Baron observes, individuals have had to adapt their methods when attempting to convey ideas either via ink and paper or electric wires as both technologies strip the communicator of an important tool: body language (5 and 11).  Although Baron’s exploration of literacy technologies culminates in the emergence of accessible word processing software, is this truly the apex of modern correspondence?  Has society truly not yet discovered a way to overcome the handicap created by the disconnect to which he alludes?

Just this afternoon, I responded to a friend’s texted question with “OK,” a brief answer which could be variously interpreted; however, the ambiguity of my reply was cleared with my choice of punctuation–not a question or exclamation mark, but a yellow face with furrowed brows and a single tear rolling down a rounded cheek.  Emojis have existed in many forms since the late 1990s, but they have reached newfound fame with their presence on the iPhone’s keyboard.  No longer just smileys, they have expanded to include everything from praise hands to over a dozen types of train (just in case you’re a locomotive connoisseur).  You can even order a pizza from Domino’s by tweeting a tiny pizza at the brand (http://www.businessinsider.com/dominos-emoji-pizza-order-2015-5).   Many emoji users may think of them as simply funny additions to their messages, but they are actually ideograms, enabling communication through pictures.  While some have become so universally understood that they can stand alone, they are often used as a supplement rather than a replacement for writing.  Unexpectedly, emojis are granting texters the ability to illustrate and convey physical expressions in non-face-to-face dialogue, taking a step towards breaking down the disconnect inherent in earlier technologies.

Further fusing the communicator to technology are video chat services such as Skype.  By transmitting voice inflection and physical cues, these programs resolve the shortcomings of writing and traditional phone calls, creating online conversations which are essentially no different than “real life” interactions.  Interestingly, despite this achievement, Skype includes an instant messaging system below one’s video.  As with emoji use, text and visuals are placed side-by-side.  It seems, therefore, that writing still has a place in communications, suggesting that just as it failed to incorporate all aspects of traditional speech, face-to-face dialogue cannot make up for some power possessed by the written word.  Thus, maybe the climax of literacy technology is neither writing nor the transmission of visual and auditory clues but some combination.



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2 Responses to Emoji Revolution: Overcoming the Disconnect of Literacy Technology

  1. Krista Harder says:

    Your discussion of bringing body language back into written forms of communication is a fascinating one. I never thought of emojis as anything other than amusing little ways to supplement my texted conversations, but they are, just as you said, a way to incorporate physical expressions into written texts. Emojis can help clarify our meanings and intentions when we use forms of communication that otherwise don’t allow us to see or interpret body language. For instance, I’m conveying two completely different meanings if I send a text that says, “I can’t wait for this exam tomorrow” with a crying face to signify sarcasm versus a text with the same words and a smug smiley face decked out in sunglasses to signify that I’ve actually studied. It allows a whole new range of communication that’s difficult to achieve with words on a screen alone. Technology has enabled us to both enhance the written word and to add on other elements of communication that remained almost entirely separate before.

  2. Zachary Hughes says:

    Like Krista, I also found your post detailing how emojis have helped modern text message communications to become more transparent and understandable very enjoyable. In fact, there are many kinds of ideograms available to enhance (arguable?) digital rhetoric nowadays. Two in particular that come to mind are animated gifs and the newer and much more viral “memes”; two forms of digital media that we all have encountered before.
    According to Wikipedia, animated gifs have been around since 1987 and can easily be used to articulate thoughts and feelings with a simple copy and paste. For example, if I just crushed an exam, I might send this in a group text message to my three closest friends from home:
    Diddy Bop
    Alternatively, memes are an interesting invention of internet culture, whose broad purpose is to “explain a concept via the Internet.” It would be hard to truly define the true depth and power of memes as they are constantly being morphed by creatives over the web to evoke feelings or to get a point across. One of over a billion examples come from Bleacher Report’s Twitter feed after the short-lived Kanye West and Wiz Khalifa Twitter “beef” earlier this week: Bleacher Report’s Twitter

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