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.