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A Diatribe Against Emoji's?!

Emoji's, emoji's, we all want emoji's!
Or do we?
We mostly think we do, if we think about it at all!
But what are emoji's, where did they come from? And what function do they fulfil, and most of all, how do we each understand their usage, and what effect do they have?

So all you fact checkers and other islands of rationality in a sea of insanity, this is all top of the head stuff, I don't as a rule plunder other sources directly, just absorb what's fact checkable and worthwhile, and plug into the whole data pool to make more connections with - so quite possibly faults, mistakes, whatever, to be found below. So be sceptical! If I'm wrong, you should be able to prove it, but if you only reject because you don't like it, or it disagree's with your own ideas, how can you be sure?

Emoji's seemed to have started out of the early text only computers of the early internet days, when networking (unix) computers together for the first time was creating the opportunity for all types of people involved, engineers, military, academic etc. to be able to communicate instantly and without the limitations many other comms forms made available.

Out of this, not only email, but also what was called network news (nntp) protocol, allowing the first chat forums. A sort of shared email allowing multiple users to share their messaging and create threads of conversation, in a hierachy of subjects. These were also similar to the bulletin boards growing at the time, running on other less well connected networks (anyone remember fidonet? Wow! You're as old as me!) where the various server connected using modems over a phone line, on regular intervals instead of permanently connected ethernet etc. passing data from machine to machine, grabbing what was for the receiver and pasing on the rest (phone calls were pretty costly in those days, minimum call times were the game!). An email could take days to arrive!

The big downside (especially viewed with hindsight), was the content limitations - text only, and not only that, but 7-bit text to boot! This meant that only 128 different characters could be transmitted across the network! Some are control characters like the backspace character, not visible in a human readable message, some are the alphabet in upper and lower case, some are the digits and 'special' characters (!"£$%^ etc), leaving some 'box'-characters to contruct horizontal and vertical 'line' drawings ("⊤⊥⊨⊣" - very crude), and not a whole lot else! Certainly no smileys in the ascii/ansi set!

But as most of you know, text can be hard to put feeling into, without a lot of extra writing! And in those days even a line of pure text had a high cost in transmitting over a network! (not to mention that techies tended to be terse (try looking up some bash shell commands and you'll see what I mean) So people started developing their own to fill the need (as is often how these things come into the mainstream) using what was available, giving us things like:

:^( ;D :^)

and so on ...

While these users tended to be small close-nit groups, with very specialist common interests and skills, building an understanding of what these meant, even a 'glossary' as they grew in number, the scope for non-common interpretation still grew as their use grew.
Even the early days of consumer internet, pre-www, all commandline stuff, most early adopters were of a technical bent, either through work, education or hobbyist, and thus had a similar culture, tended to fit in, and absorbed the communication culture, and in doing adopting the emoji (called smilies then as I recall, which I probably don't really, but it sounds good! (will have to bore everyone regarding human memory and it's inaccuracies one day, if I remember! But that's another diatribe)).

I recall major flamewars over someone's signature having more than 1KB of text in it! (about 1000 characters). Because of hundreds of people having to download that extra 1K many times, over a 1200 baud modem (about 1K a second), repetition of data being anathema to any good computer techie! If that person has posted twenty times since you last dialled in, that's a third of a minute wasted on unnecessary and repetitive text, for that one person, and when you're paying by the minute on your phone line in the 80's (not so cheap in the uk!), and that's just a small part of it's knock-on effects, and how many people are downloading it?
People valued storage and transmission of data in those days, bits and bytes mattered to normal users (well, I say normal, but ... ;)).

Anyway, fast forward into the World Wild Web and far worse, the opening up of AOL (previously a bulletin board type system) onto the real internet, and the huge flood of non-internet culture onto the internet, changed things drastically forever, and (from my own subjective view) was the start of what we have now - the opening of the unregulated exploitation of a resource the likes of which we'd never seen, but also the change from a techie tool to a consumer one.
Often compared to the opening up of America in the 1800's, which (again from my own view) seems to have been the seed of current American society (my history is very poor, so all that may be contentious).
This flood (leaving out amusing anecdotes on the unharmonious meeting of these two cultures!) also, I think, was the seed of the commercialisation, as entroprenures saw this new untapped market appearing, and plugged in. Obviously being all new, the first attempts lead to pretty large failures with fortunes lost more than won, but eventually those mistakes wre lessons to work from, and soon we started to see the Internet begin to penetrate our shared consciousness and our everyday lives.

Cutting this short and missing loads of relevant parts (I want to still be alive to finish this!), where my point comes in was with the introduction of what we now know as social media (which I consider a different beast from a non-algorithmed bulletin board/forum - where it's not the program that decides what you see, but rather simply shows you what there is, for you to make the choice instead!
(unless you prefer being told what to think, say, do, watch, read, etc? without even being aware??)

Again, I have my own perception of the pivot point, as it applied to myself and with my own contexts, and that was (running pretty much parallel to Jeff B) Mark Zuckerburger's Farce Book. Hardly original at the time (I'm sure he'll say otherwise! And who am I to argue? (he he!)), but where Mark went a different route is he saw there was a resource to market, and the resource he could see, was people!
Would you say I was being fanciful, or even deluded to call this modern slavery? The use of people, without their acceptance, to make money at their expense? Maybe not one to go into now, but slavery takes a great many forms, and is massively prevalent because we are 'programmed' to only consider certain types of slavery to be slavery, while other kinds are just 'normal'.

But the crux of it, was he gathered together a team of very smart people, with skills in many areas, not least psychology and sociology as well as technology. This team were tasked with creating a new interface for Face Book that focussed on one primary aim - to keep as many of it's users engaged with the App for as long as at all possible. Keep them reading, keep them posting/replying/liking/etc, keep them involved and most of all, in Face Book! Many of the features of social media we take for granted without thought are these emoji's, the likes and dislike, the algorithm to choose what posts you're 'allowed' or encouraged to see, and so on.
And it worked better than their wildest dreams!
The most telling single thing for me was an interview with one of these guys, one of the top project leads, who said he found himself at home after work one day, ignoring his kids, glued to this rubbish pouring from his mobile! he'd actually fallen prey to his own machinations!

Think about this, if he was so effected without realising, what about the rest of us who are in the main unaware of both the techniques used, but also the fact these techniques even exist, and work as well as they do? After all, "it's just an emoji, or a like, what's the big deal?"
And just how toxic is this? (do you really need me to say. here? :)).

So, the whole thing is just another example of the predation of the few on the many at a scale undreamed of 50 years ago.

And the emoji's, the point of all this (I did kinda go off the beaten track a little here, sorry!), well they are an integral part of this effect, which now goes so far beyond just traditional social media like Face Book - but what are they really doing?
Are they really passing on more valid and important information in our messaging? I contend that words alone are a major issue, since so many are interpreted slightly differently from person to person, accent to accent, language to language, and so on, and for those we have dictionaries, encyclopaedia's, thesaurus' and so on to provide definitions that can be common, and yet still often fail to match correctly, so how much are we misinterpreting emoji's?
And what's the effect on us?

Could they be helping, as was the original intent? Or making things worse?
Well, surely we can tell that? I mean, we're not stupid, are we? (...)
Maybe not, but we sure are irrational! And one of the most irrational things I see is the brains apparent ability to persuade it's owner that they are correctly assessing the situation/data. It's long been proven, as much as these things can be, that humans, left to their own devices, will be very likely to make irrational decisions, while convincing themselves it's the most sensible and obvious decision anyone could possibly make!

Think about what goes on in your head when you apply an emoji next time. You've probably written something that rests in your consciousness as a completed semantic of some sort, but it's left you with a feeling there could be some ambiguity for at least some readers, maybe? You may feel some need, even a mild compulsion to add something to show everyone how to take it?
Maybe it was a joke, but could be misread? So you add what seems to be the emoji that makes you feel it fits the mood of what you've written (as an example, obviously this is my thoughts, fill in your own as appropriate?).
But does it match with the reader? Does the reader always get the same meaning for a specific emoji? And how does the preceding text effect that, indeed how does the emoji alter the prior text?
I'd contend that to have any confidence that both writer and reader are on the same page, would be enormously difficult (from the writers perspective of choosing the emoji). If, as I previously described, words with defined and recorded meanings can still be difficult for matching meaning, with all their tools built up from centuries of study of language and communications, how much less likely that an emoji will invoke the same feeling between writer and reader, in different contexts, every time?

I'd say it seems highly unlikely that would happen, and misleading messages are almost guaranteed! And that's just one reader, but the whole point of a forum is many will read the same message, with each taking a unique meaning to be their understanding.
The funny thing is that human brains are great at lying to themselves about this, and being so convinced both parties are communicating accurately, they will convince you that both your messages are understood as you intended, and visa versa for the reader! This is why we can hold together such large societies full of unknown and nameless people. We still assume that even a total stranger will understand everything you say or write, just as you intended!
So we tend to go around believing we are in far more agreement than we really are!
If humans want truth, accuracy, common understanding, then they'll find it in the subjects that run on methodologies rather than personalities and personal perceptions. Could this be why we can create amazing things with technology, and yet can't come to any agreement on using it safely? Why we can't come to real agreements between cultures and countries? Why we automatically distrust those of a different culture (and thus having different definitions)?

This is all just something to chew on, and likely most will discount because we are all under the power of these misconceptions and biases. We are predisposed to disbelieve something like this, but ask yourself, why does it seem so many people can't see things the same way and come to agreement? instead tending more towards hostility, suspicion and conflict?

Could we need something new, something created by logic and rationality, something defined indisputably? Maybe a new language, maybe something else?
But I for one can't see how we can make progress while continuing to ignore all the issues we have with simply talking to each other and being understood, instead of thinking we're understood? Basically running on our irrational subconscious where nothing matters but ourselves? All those grand achievements, that took hard won trust and cooperation, and yet once found, projected us even to space, and could yet change our world in the way we need, if we wish to continue much longer?

Well, if you got this far without just scrolling down to see how it ends (;)), well done, I feel I should reward you, but maybe a session of treatment more appropriate?
Anyway, thanks for reading, hope it was a (total?) waste of your time! :)


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