I recently saw a young woman writing an SMS in seconds as if she was born with that mobile phone (she probably was). But what intrigued me was that she then spent minutes, maybe even as much as 10-15 minutes choosing smileys from the iPhone emojii set.
This made me think of the brilliant post-cyberpunk science fiction novel “Diamond Age” which portraits a world where the ability to read has become rare because most people navigate by recognising mediglyphics (animated icons) and as such have no need for the ability to read in their every day lives.
Nell: “What are letters?”
Harv: “Kinda like mediglyphics except they’re all black, and they’re tiny, they don’t move, they’re old and boring and really hard to read.
Functional icons can be as effective as misleading. What does a heart icon mean? Does it mean you ‘like’ the item or does it mean you are now following the item? Or what does a star icon mean? Is it to provide ratings or to bookmark an item?
But emotional icons work. In fact they are really our best of conveying emotions digitally with the only real competitor being written words.
While the mentioned emojii set only works on iPhone, we can always default back to its predecessor: The smiley :-)
Actually, using the word “predecessor” is misleading as the smiley is alive and well. As we use digital communication more and more the smiley has evolved to whole icon alphabet (with region specific characters) in order to convey the full spectrum of human emotions.
Mobile phones play a bigger role than anything else. The limited time, small buttons and tiny screens of mobile phone is the perfect breeding ground for smileys.
Smileys are becoming the digital citizen’s second alphabet and it is only a matter of time before it migrates offline. In fact it may already have happened… I might not have noticed it as I rarely read printed newspapers and magazines.