SMS or Short Messaging Systems, as an industry sector only began in the second half of the 1990’s. In the space of just a few years, mobile messaging has become an immense global industry generating over $55 Billion US Dollars in 2005 and expected to reach 67 Bn by 2012 generating 3.7 trillion messages. The largest portion of this revenue comes from simple SMS, worth an estimated $47 Bn USD in 2005 reported by Forrester Research.
In a similar timeframe, in the wireline world, person-to-person email has grown from a standing start to traffic levels which The Radicati Group expect to reach a staggering 21,000 Bn messages communicated worldwide this year (not counting spam). Only a short 10-15 years ago email was no more advanced than the green and black screen and now we send an email with frequency and regularity in explosive volumes never before seen before.
But lately, simple mobile messaging has taken on a new look and a new social communications mode,
especially interesting to the SMS market.
In Tokyo, Yokohama and Seoul, where these new communications devices, modes, and systems are usually firstborn, users have been growing the self-expression phenomenon to new communication formats. Japan was the first nation to implement 3G technology which facilitates these communication modes. These trends are later emulated throughout other parts of the world, most notably by the youth of China but more surprisingly, not by the youth of North America where IM is in more common use. (24 is the average daily number of SMS sent by users in Asia surveyed by Acision. This compares with 6 per day in Europe and 2 per day in the US.) (There are exceptions, I realize. Recently, in Vancouver where we live, I was talking to my son about this article: he declared, “Nonsense, I send or receive about 50 messages’ a day.” You can always depend on an argument from your children.)
Email (or, as they say, “what my father uses”) has been replaced in Japan more recently by the emerging “EMOJI” mail and other even more elaborate communications tools variously encoding secret or private messages. Since in Japan it is not permitted to use voice communications on mobiles in commuter trains (it is considered to be in poor taste and inconsiderate or impolite to others), it has embraced this technology and used even more widely in all circumstances than voice communication, ds as a result.
EMOJI is a branch of ‘gyaru’ (girl or gal) plus ‘moji’ (text or alphabet) used by Japanese youth as a code for communicating outside of the majority of surrounding society members. The technique involves the use of the Latin alphabet, hiragana, katakana, kanji and Greek.
Now while encoding communications is not new, the use of non-verbal signage to communicate emotions rather than precise information has a more recent history. Beginning with emoticons or ‘smilies’ in the so named, antiquated email systems, these emotional signs have been replaced or augmented by a variety of new very sophisticated coding systems. And while even non-verbal signage has been with us since the beginning of human communications, emotional sign language in the context of social networking is a new phenomenon.
Some common standards involve the use of homonyms and the use of numbers for example:
o 4-6-4-9 — yo-ro-shi-ku (“hello,” “best regards”)
o 3-3-4-1 — sa-mi-shi-i (“I feel lonely”)
o 8-8-9-1-9 — ha-ya-ku-i-ku (“hurry up, let’s go”)
o 8-8– ‘ba ba’ in China (Bye bye)
Another form, more commonly used in IM but finding popularity in the mobile environments is the ASCII art which is an artistic medium that relies primarily on computers for presentation and consists of pictures pieced together from the 95 printable (from a total of 128).
As you might imagine, constructing these communication codes is much more cumbersome and time-consuming than typing common text messages. So why go to the trouble? We may venture to suggest that what may not be spelt out for a variety of reasons, (shyness, culture conduct, or secrecy) these new non-verbal communications solve a growing problem previously unforeseen to social networking systems.
First, even though these signs are relatively new, they are commonly used. And signs can be defensibly either explicit or vague. If a sign is advanced and wrongfully interpreted by the receiver, it could be explained away as a miss-use or ambiguous use of the sign. On the other hand, in the right social communications, for example between courting couples, it can be very explicit and intimate. Signs are also a very simple way of communicating a lot with only a few strokes of the keyboard as is the case in most traditional non-verbal communications.
Gossip, in this way, can involve a very secret code for a personal name shared by only a few, plus the use of many more common signs. The communication is successful between intended sender and receiver but puzzling to those who may intercept or read it either by chance or by purpose. (It is now common practice in some circles: ((read young and teenage users)) to pass around your cell phones and look at each other’s messages, personal avatars, settings and so on.)
What was unforeseen and now worrisome by technocrats regarding social networking was the fact that even though people are texting, they are not communicating on a personal, emotional level. This system of signage does go to some length in solving this problem. And the bemoaning of loss of communications skills in writing and speaking has developed into a very new sophisticated communication system.
These tools are most widely used by teenagers who are definitely not in a ‘hugging’ phase of their development, (shunning to hug even their mothers and fathers and certainly not, a ‘friend’ found on Facebook or MySpace)
But the use of signs is a kind of emotional icebreaker; a way of testing the sender and receivers level of emotional involvement. This media is an appropriate way to introduce yourself (perfect strangers flirtatious approach); flirting (recent introductions); gossip emotional gossip among ‘friends’) and whispers and secret codes intimate or familiar communications shared among close ‘fiends.
Even among strangers, it is a way of asking, “Do you speak my language?” These communications can be exchanged surreptitiously among senders and receivers even while conversations both live and virtual are being carried on in the same environment as for example around a common table or lunchroom. If you ever have the chance to visit a coffee bar or internet bar or better yet a campus lounge or lunchroom, you will witness these obvious exchanges taking place evidenced by the questioning and perplexing looks of the un-included members of the group.
Now, this phenomenon does not go to lengths to solve the problem of loss of communication skills as is widely noted to be diminishing in most sectors: elementary students are not developing grammar skills as only a generation ago they did; college and university students fail the most fundamental writing and speaking grammatical tests; young workers in most service jobs cannot express themselves adequately enough to satisfy customer concerns; and even in corporate environments, most big talk has been replaced by superficial small talk in both informal and formal settings.
My prediction is that since communication techniques are bound to change, they will continue to change in terms of poorer efficiencies and this is a worrisome problem especially when we must participate in globalization exchanges where most people we will engage, speak English as a Foreign language and follow the rules of grammar and civil conversation rather adroitly.
Featured Image: Wise Geek