On my radar: Our new social sign language

2014-09-19 13:45

Emoticons were used more than four?billion times since last year.

I’ll just let that sink in, especially for those who believe “the youth of today” are losing the ability to read and write properly.

For the uninitiated, emoticons are “a representation of a facial expression, like a smile or frown, formed by various combinations of keyboard characters and used in electronic communication to convey the writer’s feelings or intended tone”.

But the art (quite literally) of emoticons has evolved rapidly into emoji?–?a small digital image or icon that has replaced the keyboard character combinations of emoticons.

The term emoji is actually of Japanese origin?–?“e” meaning picture, and “moji” meaning character. Most people will have seen or used the most popular ones like heart symbols, smiley faces – or the very popular crying, happy face.

Non-users of emoji (note the divide between users and non-users is not necessarily generational) will argue that this new form of digital expression is just another nail in the coffin for the “proper” use of language and the written word; but scientists, academics and sociologists are viewing them in a different light.

Their counterargument is that emoji are, in fact, an important tool and evolutionary process to restore context and emotion in a digital world where person-to-person contact has diminished in favour of instant messaging.

If you’re in doubt about just how much we rely on instant messaging, text analysis firm Idibon estimates that the total number of words in all text messages sent every three months exceeds the word count of all the books ever published.

Hard to imagine, but even if inaccurate, the scale of how we communicate using instant messaging is massive.

But as with all digital platforms, emoji is evolving rapidly, supporting the theory that this is an important 21st-century means of communication.

The political correctness of emoji has already been challenged. Earlier this year, Oju Africa, a division of African mobile company Mi-Fone, launched the first black emoticons.

The company felt the current selection of emoji did not cater for black social-media users, so it created its own collection of 15 darker-hued emojis.

Surprisingly, one of the first campaigners for “politically correct” emojis was pop star Miley Cyrus, who first tweeted about the need for an “emoji ethnicity update” in 2012.

Following hot on the heels of Oju Africa’s emoji offering was the launch of a new social-media platform called Emojili. This platform promises a social network with “no words, no spam, just emoji”, taking emoji to a new level. The platform only allows you to communicate using emoji.

The network has yet to go live but quickly passed the 50?000-registration mark when it was launched. When registering, you have to submit a username, unsurprisingly, using only emoji.

But communicating or translating words into an emoji only format is already being explored in the art world. Artist Wesley Stace is converting classic record album covers into emoji and the results are hilarious.

One of the most memorable emoji translations he has done has been of the Nirvana album Nevermind, which is a photo of a baby swimming underwater towards a dollar bill on a fishing hook.

The emoji translation is a bunch of wave emoji grouped around a baby head emoji and a dollar sign. When you see the emoji interpretation, it is instantly recognisable. Stace uses his Twitter account to show and spread his emoji art.

Many would say this visual, short-cut language is only suitable for those with short attention spans, but the world of emoji caters for everyone, even those who don’t know how to use them but would like to.

If you are emoji-challenged, there is now a service called Emojimo, which translates regular text sentences into emoji parlance. This should enable grandparents (or perhaps even parents) to communicate with the younger members of their family.

But if you receive a more confusing reply from your first foray into emoji messaging, help is at hand.

Emoji Tracker is a new website that tracks, in real time, the popularity of the most used emoji on Twitter. Here, the rapid adoption of emoji across the world can be seen first hand.

The site even comes with an epilepsy warning because the rapidly changing visuals are so fast, the visual effect could trigger an epilepsy attack.

Like it or not, emoji communication is not only here to stay, it’s just beginning to evolve. If you’re a critic, you’d better get with the programme.

In cyberspace, no one can hear you scream, but fortunately there’s already an emoji that can communicate that frustration.

Chang is the founder of Flux Trends. For more trends, visit www.fluxtrends.com

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