ASCII-motions

A number of things surprised me when I received an iPod Touch back in 2010. The device was my first Apple product and it presented me with something that I never had when using Palm OS or Windows Mobile1; simplicity. Rather than side-load 3rd-party software for simple features, it seemed that anything a person might need from the basic operating system were already in place … even copy-paste2. There was support for multiple languages and keyboards right out of the box. Applications were easy to find and install. Within the space of a week, the iPod Touch had almost completely turned my stance on Apple products 180 degrees.

This wasn't the only thing to change as a result of the iPod Touch, either.

Early 2010 was right around the time when I was most engaged on Twitter. There were a number of fellow-gaijin3 that I would regularly communicate with when not in the classroom and the Twitter applications for iOS were far and away better than anything I had used on Windows Mobile beforehand. As a result of the language support, I was able to more easily read Tweets that contained Japanese and Korean characters4, emoji, and silly ASCII art. More than this, it was possible to write my own messages with multiple character sets and yellow-faces to convey a mood alongside a 138-character message. It was with the iPod Touch that my predisposition to including some sort of emoji in my message really took off.

Emoji has been part of my online writing style since the late 90s when mIRC on Windows was the primary means of communication. Faces like :P, :), -_- and :/ would trail the vast majority of public messages on IRC to add an extra layer of information, letting people know whether I was being serious or silly, joyful or sad, ambivalent or angry. The utility of these extra letters was indisputable given the number of times arguments would break out simply because someone read something on IRC literally rather than with any measure of jest. But more than this, I liked having the faces. There's no denying that I generally spam a forum with messages when the opportunity arises and I wanted my messages to be noted for something other than the verbosity. A trailing face to convey a feeling, even one in jest like ಠ_ಠ, was the perfect answer.

Emoji in iOS was something completely different to the simple text-based faces I'd been using for 15 years. Unlike the ones from IM clients such as Skype, ICQ, and MSN Messenger, Apple's emoji were colourful and fun to look at. More than this, they were easily accessible! Tap the globe on the keyboard to cycle between English, Japanese, and Emoji. Choose the best expression or complimentary weather-or-food-related icon, then hit "Send". Could anything be simpler?

Looking at my Tweet archive5, 52,189 messages — a little over 70% of the total — had an emoji. The percentage is similar for my App.net posts, where 61,091 posts contained an emoji. As for Nice.Social, 78,346 social posts contain at least one; a ridiculous 84% of the 93,267 posts there.

But the time has come to put an end to these colourful distractions, return to the simpler text-based faces, and maybe cut back on the nuance-projection altogether. There's too much emphasis being placed on this set of higher-ASCII characters and the "fun" of using emoji has long since evaporated. Other people can continue to use these characters to their heart's content, of course. I will not judge in the least, given my inclination to use them to excess over the past decade or more. However, I don't see me reaching to put a "Simpson's Yellow" face into my social posts anymore.


  1. Previously known as Windows CE, for Consumer Electronics.

  2. Prior to version 3.0, there was no copy-paste functionality in iOS. Mind you, it seems that Apple has done a pretty good job of making it much harder to use in version 13.

  3. 外人 (gaijin), being short for 外国人 (gaikokujin), which means "foreigner" in Japanese.

  4. To get Japanese on Windows Mobile, I paid $50 USD for a 3rd-party language package that only ended up making the HP iPaq run hotter and less stable. There was no chance of seeing Korean characters without spending another $50, which was not something I wanted to do given what the Japanese language pack had done.

  5. All 73,818 Tweets I had ever sent were downloaded and imported into 10C before the account was deleted on Twitter. As they're all in a database, this makes asking questions and deriving statistics pretty darn easy.