Episode #75

Emoji Gone Wild: We Text Without Words for a Month

And the modern legacy of a man who tried to build a language of symbols.

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Wednesday, February 26, 2014

The more we access the web from mobile devices, the more visual our communications seem to become. Smartphone cameras enable us to express ourselves through the photos and videos we spread around on apps like Instagram and SnapChat. Meanwhile, a growing fleet of messaging services like WhatsApp, WeChat and Line make it even easier to incorporate imagery in our casual communications. Hundreds of millions of people around the world are using them to speak to one another in emojis and digital sticker sets, a trend that has grabbed the attention of Silicon Valley tech giants like Facebook and Google.

This week on New Tech City, we try to find out if these new visual communication tools are expanding how we can express ourselves and relate to one another. You'll hear from an illustrator who designs emojis and stickers about what he's trying to express when he draws a wombat taking a bath and drinking a glass of wine.

We'll also introduce you to several people who are testing the limits of visual communication:

  • Data engineer Fred Benenson who oversaw a translation of Herman Melville's Moby-Dick into emojis, i.e. Emoji Dick
  • Computational linguist Richard Sproat who explains the history of graphical languages in the plainest English imaginable, including the fascinating story of Charles Bliss's Blissymbolics;
  • And you'll join us on the endearing journey of New Tech City's own Alex Goldmark and his girlfriend as they banish text from their text message diet and try to communicate with only emojis and digital stickers (no words). It gets pretty intimate, and confusing.


(Image translation) Alex: I'm going home. Liza: I'm with a friend and she's had a death in the family, don't come to drinks with us. Alex: ? I'm gonna drink with other people instead. 

    Music Playlist
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  2. Librarian Crush
    Artist: Kenneth J Brahmstedt
  3. Swing Me
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  4. Funeral March
    Artist: Kenneth J Brahmstedt

Comments [7]

debbie from New York City

What a wonderful idea. Little-hearted yet so deeply culturally relevant. This is why I love New Tech City and Alex Goldmark in particular. And Liza is fabulous. Well done WNYC!

Aug. 14 2014 11:19 PM

Sarah, try the Google Hangouts App on Android. The emojis will look a little different than the Apple ones, but they are all essentially the same. And let us know how it works out.

Apr. 08 2014 07:25 PM

I was intrigued by this and thought it would be a fun experiment to try and replicate, does anyone recognize the app on the left. I have an apple and the person agreed to do this experiment with me has an android which doesn't read my emoji's how i send them.

Mar. 19 2014 04:45 PM

I seem to recall a significantly autistic individual, who became not just entirely competent but a recognized expert in her field; she said she learned to think in pictures, and then communicate in words. I found her articulate and intelligently well spoken.

Feb. 27 2014 09:41 AM
foodaggro from Brooklyn

Seriously? This non-story/promo piece begs ridicule.

Feb. 26 2014 09:24 AM
James from Upstate

While I can see the application for someone with a disability, a competent reader already sees "dog" as a discrete symbol, rather than having to sound it out and decode it every time they encounter it. If I'm going to have to learn a new set of symbols, I'll opt for French, rather than a stunted language based on 2000 poorly drawn cartoon characters.

Feb. 26 2014 08:30 AM
Dave.Maico from not brooklyn

This is why I am refusing to pledge any more money to WNYC. Frivolous, froo-froo stories like this with cooing yupsters talking about how they want to communicate more visually. Cmon. You need the PhD and the Google guy for this? Another piece of fallout in Obama's America.

Feb. 26 2014 07:59 AM

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