Digital native: Not only words

Written by Nishant Shah
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Published:July 16, 2017 12:05 am


They introduced cuteness to the texty digital space, but emoticons and ASCII also helped circumvent censorship.

Emoticons, or if you prefer the original Japanese word emojis, are everywhere. We are used to emoticons in all shapes and sizes — from animated gifs jumping out at us on our social media feed to yellow-faced smileys that we use to add tone and feeling, nuance and layers to our text-heavy conversations in the digital world. For many of the current users of digital communication, emoticons are pre-defined pictures that they select from a menu that gives them access to add a wink, a nod, a smiling or sad face to their messages. However, there are power users who, I am sure, still remember the times when emoticons were things that you created.

Before the emergence of the Graphical User Interface (GUI) that turned the computer into a box of cuteness, turning all of us into eternal children playing with the friendly faces of the digital platforms, the digital world was flat and largely textual. Emoticons were first proposed in 1982 to take away the density and the unforgiving monotone of text-based conversations on digital platforms. From that first proposal of a : ) and : ( sign to indicate the mood of a text, emoticons have had a fascinating history of evolution. Following the proposal of the basic emoticons by Scott Fahlman, a variety of early adopters of the web came up with a wide range of options. The smiley became a grin with : D and the sad face was made to weep with : ‘ (. The face became mischievous and winked with a 😉 and swooned in love with a <3. It became silly with its tongue poking out :p and sprouted devil horns to show its inherent wickedness with >:D.

Early users will remember how, from that first explosion, the emoticons grew into forming extremely intricate art forms. In the world of text-based virtual realities, the shrugging emoticon was my constant companion when giving up on futile internet arguments : ¯_(?)_/¯ . From there, we were only one step away from complex ASCII (American Standard Code for Information Interchange) art forms that made punctuation and critical marks the new tools for emerging artists to play with. The ASCII characters were keyboard symbols, letters and numbers mixed together to produce images ranging from flowers and animals to the globe and human bodies….

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