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The emoji boom: better communication?

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Dear LA Teacher,

My grandkids always send me cute text messages with happy faces, hearts, and other cutesy pictures. What’s this all about? Has communication in the 21st Century gone primeval?

Concerned Grandma

Dear Concerned Grandma,

LOL! No, communication hasn’t gone primeval. It’s just the signs for the time.

The symbols your grandchildren are sending are called emoji. A primitive form of those pictures was first used in 1982 by the computer-science staff at Carnegie Mellon. Miscommunications were affecting personnel morale, so Professor Scott Fahlman suggested sarcastic messages be labeled with a smiley sign like this : - ) . The idea worked, and soon a sign for displeasure was concocted : - ( and soon followed a winky ; - ) .

In 1999, Shigetaka Kurita, a Japanese telecommunications planner decided to improve on the Carnegie Mellon emoticons that he called emoji. [In Japanese e- means picture and moji means character—character pictures, or emoji.]

Today more than your grandkids are using character pictures. Emoji helps translate people’s feelings that words can’t express. They are shorthand translations of an individual’s emotions that written communication can’t interpret.

University of California, Berkeley psychologist Dacher Keltner and Pixar artist Matt Jones developed stickers based on descriptions of human emotions. Dr. Keltner analyzed emoji use and its effect offline. In the July 28, 2014 issue of Time, the article, “Not Just a Smiley Face,” Keltner reports, “…the richer the array of emotions expressed, the happier and healthier the users tended to be.”

The emoji explosion began in 2011 when Apple included emoji as a feature for their iPhones. Naturally, other smartphones followed suit. So the next time your grandkids send you a message with emoji, look closely at the pictures they send. Those emoticons tell you a lot about their personal life and the culture they live in.

In reality, 21st Century communication has not reverted to ancient ways, but is actually evolving to a higher level.

Best wishes,
LA Teacher

You can visit LA Teacher on his Website.

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