As my research comes to a close, I’ve realized that text-speak (txt spk) isn’t so much a “spoken” phenomenon like it’s implied; instead, it’s a visual phenomenon that has infiltrated our lives through the streams of technology and social advancements. If we look back (not as far back as I went) at the times with the first modern usage of txt spk, we can essentially date it back to during WWI when short forms were used to deliver quicker messages in the form of code. The basic idea of transmitting messages in a more efficient way still transcended through time; however, nowadays, with txt spk being so common, it’s an even more radical visual movement that conveniently has the extra advantage of speed. Txt spk has evolved to take the idiom “a picture is worth a thousand words” and apply it to our daily use of textual components to create a visual experience whether it be through basic smiley faces or the more complex ascii art.
Everything to do with technology is code. Whether it’s binary code (0s and 1s), html, or Java Script, everything is associated with some form of programming and code that in all ways looks dry, boring, and flat— in other words, emotionless. The difference between text in code versus wording in literature, per se, is that the result that derives from coding must be processed by a concrete software where there is no room for interpretation or imagination. Traditional forms of text have the human imagination on their side, which makes it interesting, fun, and full of emotion. With digital text being so dry, it became up to us, the consumer, to manipulate what we see into something that can convey a message.. and there is where txt spk comes in.
Starting with the “smiley face” : ) (or otherwise known as emoticons), the use of punctuation and letters to convey an emotion has become incredibly common. : ) first came about in the 1980’s when computer technology was at it’s commercial infancy. Back then, a group of I.T developers at Carnegie Mellon would frequent message boards on servers to communicate with one another (similar to how we have forums on the internet). However, because these boards were all text based, it was difficult to convey any forms of emotion at all. Therefore, being on of the more frequent users of the board, Scott E. Fahlman decided that something had to be done. He later posted the combination of a semi colon, a dash, and a parenthesis and declared it the smiley face (after having a note telling everyone to turn their head sideways). There was essentially only one reason why Fahlman decided to create the smiley face: to make the dry, boring interface of text-only computers (back in the day) more interesting by adding elements of visuals that can help convey more than just textual information. What Fahlman did in the 80s elevated the demand to have visual representations of true human emotion in what was and still is in many ways, a text-based technology.
From : ), so many more alternatives have sprung: : ( :T, and the list goes on. It has expanded to the point where emoticons can now be regionally specific. For example, when we see emoticons that are simple, more basic, like : ) or =), we associate it with western customs. Versus when we see the more elaborate (^.^) or p(^_^)q, we are (usually) immediately reminded of the Japanese or Asian cultural habits. Emoticons have become so customary and have become a part of our daily communication.— Side note: even iPads have intergrated emoticons and short forms into their newest update! — Most mobile technology users, whether on computers or cell phones, there’s a very high chance that we can run into these emoticons. The use of these emoticons allows us to feel what we read with the luxury of convenience. As avid technology users, we see the mundane in each keystroke and aim to make the conventional slightly more interesting by adding the important elements of emotion.
Emoticons have become accessible to everyone as long as they can conceptually see faces in the unconventional keystroke. However, artists have been able to take the concept of emoticons to a whole new level by incorporating letters and punctuations into art forms. Ascii art originated around the same time as the first smiley face when computer technology was at its early stages. As always, computers were text-based, which made images inaccessible. Being a series of patterns, Ascii Art tend to make no sense if we read each line laterally. Instead, if we look at the whole collection of patterns, a recognizable image will form.
More recently, ascii art has seen a comeback with Twitter. Before Twitter because multimedia faceted, Twitter was text-based. With that in mind, the users of Twitter reverted back to the same mindset as the 1980’s and realized that another system must be implemented to introduce art and emotion back into this platform. With emoticons already being popular, many Twitter users felt the need to do more. Even with the 140 character limit, users have been able to come up with relatively elaborate art pieces with the keys they have on their computers.
@tw1tt3rart is one of the most popular users who take ascii art to a whole new level by introducing his or her followers to a piece of “Twitter Art” everyday. Not only are the pieces socially relevant, but their all under 140 characters! With all this said, even though ascii art is another use of txt spk, by no means a feat of speed or convenience like txt spk traditionally is considered to be. The time and effort that goes into creating a piece of Ascii art can take hours and hours on end. However, the satisfaction of creating a piece of art by one of the more unconventional means that makes txt spk and ascii art unique in it’s own right.
Nowadays, when we think txt spk, we think LOL, LMAO and maybe even WTF? But the roots of txt spk lie in the desire to spread art, especially emotion, in a binary world. We now rely on txt spk to supplement our written thoughts into emotion. If anything, it seems to be customary to use txt spk in a certain way in order to ensure that the right message is being sent through cyberspace. For example, “You’re obnoxious.” reads a lot more serious than “You’re obnoxious : )”. There’s a certain sense of sternness when we place a period after a short fragment versus the more playful smiley face that conveys a joke or a more relaxed manner. Because of txt spk, we’ve been programmed to associate certain forms of punctuation and emoticons with specific emotions; we’re now able to detect anger, joy, sarcasm, and even fear in text-form. Art that stems from txt spk defies the whole idea of everything being quick and convenient, but the results are the same as creating a conventional art piece— the satisfaction of creating and conveying emotional value. The whole concept of txt spk resonates with our generation, and without it, all text-based forms of technology will revert back to its dry state with no substance and emotional value.