Steven Buckley of Cardiff University challenges the ubiquity of the emoji to fully communicate intent and meaning with a unique proposal to colour code the Internet.
We’ve all been there when we’ve received a tweet or an email from a friend and the message is so ambiguous that we have no idea how to interpret it. There are numerous ways to read “Yeh. Ok”. Is it being written in anger, sarcastically, in mirth? We simply don’t know.
When we speak person to person, our body language, our intonation, our inflections and a whole host of other factors shape the way in which our words are received. When communicating with each other online all of these aspects of our language are lost.
If online communication has done anything in the 21st century, it has certainly accelerated the manner in which we talk to one another. First we moved to ‘text speak’ where for the sake of brevity we took the vowels out of many words. Now we have arguably entered the second phase in this quest for quickness where we are replacing whole words with a single image.
In recent years people have learnt to try and refine communication on the internet via the medium of emoticons. Ranging from winky faces to tacos to hearts, the number of options we have at our disposal to try and add another layer of depth to our web communications has increased year on year. To say that they are not truly part of our language is to deny reality. For instance, this year Oxford Dictionaries word of the year is the ‘Face with tear of joy’ emoji. If a picture paints a thousand words, then a string of emojis can tell entire stories. However, whilst we can condense the works of Shakespeare into a few pages of emojis, there is still scope for misinterpretation and confusion when attempting to boil down our entire language into modern day hieroglyphs.
What I want, in fact what I think we desperately need, is for the internet community to coalesce around a universally recognisable set of rules where we colour code all the text on the internet. For example, a tweet written in green is sarcastic, a comment on Facebook in red is one that is written in anger. Having the ability to colour the internet has the potential to save countless friendships, business relations and much more.
The technology already exists for this to be made reality. All that is required for the next evolutionary step in how we communicate in written text online is for the major players in the industry, the likes of Apple, Twitter, Reddit etc to create this feature. If they were willing to give us the ability to colour our text, the internet community would naturally over a period of time settle upon which emotions and intentions are associated with each colour.
Hashtags came about in a very natural manner and quickly became widely understood to represent a particular issue or event which people could comment on using the corresponding hashtag. No single company invented the hashtag, but once they saw how people were using it, they helped encourage its use. Twitter was the birthplace of the hashtag but now it is seen and used across the entire web. If but one of the major online platforms gave users the ability to colour their text, I imagine that people would soon work out how to use this feature in a creative and helpful way.
One of the points of the internet is to enable fast and far reaching communication. However, what is the point of this if a lot of what is being said is being misinterpreted and misperceived? Colouring the internet won’t solve all misunderstandings but I believe it would certainly help in some regard.
And even if it doesn’t, at least it will make it look a bit prettier!