Media Systems and Communication Technology

CMST 432 Media Systems and Communication Technology

Recommended Text and Materials

Hanson, R. E. (2018) Mass communication: Living in a media world (7th ed.). SAGE.

Recommended Resources for Additional Exploration

The Mass Communication student companion website: (Links to an external site.)

This site is a particularly good resource for review of course materials.

Discussion post: Emojis Bring Back Picture Writing

Typically, when we think of picture writing, we think about Egyptian hieroglyphics from two or three millennia ago. With a bit more history in mind, you might think about cave paintings in France or the Native Americans’ Newspaper Rock in Utah. There are the ideographs in Chinese writing, but those symbols are pretty abstract and a long way from being recognizable drawings of something more than a symbol for an idea.

But it’s likely that you’ve done picture writing lately – using the emoji keyboard on your mobile device. Smiling faces, a smiling pile of poop, a smiling devil, a smiling cat, an Edvard Munch screaming face—you get the idea—seem to show up everywhere from text messages to tweets to Snapchat posts. It is tempting to think that these emojis, or small icons that stand for emotions or ideas, carry universal social meanings, but people often don’t agree on what they mean. For example, consider this one: While officially this is praying hands (available in any number of skin colors), some people see it portraying a high five. A study by researchers at the University of Minnesota’s Group Lens lab found that people looking at exactly the same emoji can come up with dramatically different interpretations of it. Further complicating things is that each platform has its own versions of emojis. Consider the “grinning face with smiling eyes” icon. The icon is very different depending on whether you are looking at it on an Apple, Google, Microsoft, Samsung, or LG platform.

For 2018, the Unicode Consortium (which establishes the standards for the character sets on computers and mobile devices) has published a proposed list of new emojis to include in upcoming smartphone software updates. These include redheads in the assortment of skin tone and hair color smiley emojis. There’s also a wide range of skin tones to go with a natural African American hair—not to mention a lacrosse stick, a strand of DNA, and a skateboard. You can see the proposed new emojis in the accompanying graphic.

Give Answers to the following questions:

1. What makes communicating with emojis difficult?

Take a popular emoji and show it to several people of different ages. Ask them what it means. Does it mean the same thing to them as it does to you? Why do you think that? Look at the emojis in the graphic on this page. Do these all seem to represent the same idea/feeling? Why or why not?

2. Why is representation important to people with emojis?

Why does the Unicode Consortium put so much effort into making sure there are emojis that represent a wide range of skin tones and hair colors/styles? Does it matter to you that your emoji matches you in some way? Do the proposed new emojis have a variant that matches you?