Episode: Me and My Girlfriend Texted Only in Emoji for a Month

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Me and My Girlfriend Texted Only in Emoji for a Month

Face it, Emoji is here to stay. Texting is visual, and images can enhance how we talk. But, will it also change the content of what we say to each other?

In this intimate episode, one couple banishes all written words from text messages for a month to see how it alters their emotional vocabulary. Along the way they are forced to create their own lexicon of imagery -- oddly, not terribly unlike ancient Egyptians and Sumerians. Naturally, this 21st century couple hits a few comical communications mishaps as they build a visual language of two. At the end of the experiment, Emoji-only texting seems to morph from a guinea pig gimmick into a profound lesson in what is often missing from the written word: nuanced emotion. 

Grocery shopping though gets way harder. 

In this episode: 

  • Richard Sproat, computational linguist on the history of ideograms and visual languages

  • David Lanham, designer and creator of "stickers" for social networks on how he picks what zany characters you get to send your friends.  

If you like this story, subscribe to us on iTunes or by RSS to get all our other episodes.

Mentioned in the audio: 

Image translation. Alex: I'm going home. Liza: I'm with a friend and she's had a death in the family, don't come to drinks with us. Alex: ? I'm gonna drink with other people instead.


(This is a re-edited, re-released version of an earlier show that covered additional topics: translating Moby Dick into Emoji and the story of Charles Bliss, the man who tried to build a global language entirely out of images.)

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Automated Transcript (Why is this transcription so bad?)
hello friend this is an episode of new peace out i picked from when we used to be called new tech city same the content to see old name enjoy it i'm the same intensity listener is it's when you said earlier in your house to find any new tax any team in anchorage king and i'll break because we're working on some extra limbs special shows are that come out in the fall of so we won't take this as an opportunity to play some of our very favorite episodes in this one in particular is very close to our hearts and you'll understand why perry and lars chatting in securing an average jason you sneak lines that at him that i had even together for almost two years we lived together and you see it here smart bombs in some of the new to us on and on this earth orbit as pianos and cities can improve the leash and shit strengthen their bonfire doesn't mean for the arts the race has moved let's start with our own alex gold bar economics minutiae alex as new digs any senior producer you were always came for one of my ridiculous challenges and for this show you tried to completely calm in many words from your dealing text messaging with your girlfriend lies at yes and i am not a visual finger my terrible artistic in believing that would put my name on a tax form but my girlfriend why is a stark she is very affected by the jewels she's good artist she arranged a bookshelf white collar and you know she's gonna pursue volunteers to the graphic to sign for other people so we signed up to the new texting guinea pigs this week pretty eagerly to see if this experiment might help our communication just a little bit me i'm the allies a while and i'm boring and do what they're turning to the community in arlington orgies no weren't allowed in austria it to hurt yes yes okay see you and why they decided to test out your usual communication chaps for ligament tear sal just to see if communicating with jest pictures is even possible right yeah and the jumping four and we start off by downloading all the absolute we thought might be a little pots and we need to the dollar bill texting that had the simone she's built unloaded and now by the way there is a difference between analgesic anemone it cons if you're wondering like me so i'm icons are using my comment in periods to make a face but i'm noah g. are the actual renderings of smiley faces the animals shake the building's depending on how many you download there are thousands of them alex which i learned to right and we decided to go with yep week at a chinese chap and it has lots of nice things called stickers these are pictures of courtroom type characters that usually cancer rounder do things for a few seconds i don't want people to pay for these virtual stickers which added this kind of weird these the land is after making antenna money off of people buying things that don't actually exist but anyway you guys when all in all these rituals richmond occasions and there are a lot of them and so we got our visual vocabulary going pretty fast when you say that we need so we had to figure a way to say simple things like i and then you a bright light i know who's coming to the grocery store and this was like disfavor part actually so you started using russell do you know how many they you feel a connection to start representing yourself celery now i'm looking at energy that arm has insulted the helm at an entirely new to hell with a baseball hats not like them as to how it looks at home and it's not that missis halligan no i don't worry wedding i had all the time of the debate on the news does can look items of my wish is that the bike at the point is that you have the facilities and they die walking and none of us said that serious a new alix i am walking to go in and some were much if occasion to come and see it that was something that allison so inventive of the 'em megan and humming this alex the sounds completely nuts and sir we'll show me now his standard conversation between you and my son what is with this picture at nostrils with a thumbs up and at 'em down you're asking her for nasa still stuffy yes exactly i was getting sick okay then here's another one bag is she says the back girl house clock she's going comment eight thirty p. out denise and her heart's saying that's nice says she senses picture the thumbs down the boy a face house to sleep and she's done you know that she come on go to sleep in this picture of her with an angry face boehringer bad but good because she has a feeling that the menu leah center as my little laughing smiling face you appreciate her mcgee humor so alex looking at the inn blake it's obvious there are some things they're just perfect for picture messaging it but i guess some other stuff is like way harder each evening jest commode she photos sticker is a change what you would say to line them get at the end there myself going to send a lot more when i called cheesy affectionate messages why hast thou fight that hardly saw an other one hundred companies kissing ass is very cute if she's here just a tad the bottom right hand to send a nervous bunny rabbit like that then it might be for we actually taken out and see what i'm thinking right to write i miss you an offer which is to stay alert to sing war is over and over again frankly bunny rabbit she sees it is it works in a sense i'm not the first person to try to do this there's an extremely long history of people trying to talk with images summer just wrote in and out of a phd in linguistics from mit partner she were on forty teensy bell labs and he's been an academic time our research scientists to google the reason you contacted me as honest and reduce that so i have a longstanding interest in running systems that the couple books on the topic and turning gentle i'm interested in how we can use graphical symbols to communicate this guy knows talking with pictures inside and nieces people in using pictures to communicate since the dawn of written language or even before it if you look at the history of the development of running system's going backstage rejection to sue marianne to ancient chinese all of them saw develops weatherly some components of all of which you might call idea graphs of those pictures of things to id graft is like a drawing of a dog he even the idea of the dog screenings your brain you see it you think of the dog if you see the word deal gee you read it you maybe see the sounds are had maybe to war dollar in your head then prove a picture of a golden retriever okay so that's what images are better at right there more in stand faster comprehension for simple message for simple message his main point is that images are certainly getting easier to share now and to incorporate into tax communications because of smart phones indulging lexicon son so forth to their enhancing communication but not much more than that he says but it's limited item is how many are images are there maybe a few hundred two thousand bomb be that more boats out to think about the vocabulary of the average speakers in the many tens of thousands of loads and that's just in our heads and dictionary has hundreds of thousands he said so we're never going to group least words with pictures at least not the way it's brodie said he feels pretty sure about this because well people have tried to do it one famous cases a mini charles blood he created a whole language of symbols call bliss symbols anyway people who tried to any engages granados symbols but that's not exactly what happened to you right now i know it's not food and coming up in here from the man who actually did thanks those stickers that fat cats who endured the process and reading those images that are made fast for digital conversation as long as it went on to discover that it wasn't just expressions but also activities that were of the meeting with people and we'll also hear that he came to me and have talents in mind that visual it leaned smith and how it changed that i out can you go back and i'm a nice eveready this is new tax city from the u. n. y. c. n. n. new takes a pretty sur alex gold market and his girlfriend lines that are texting exclusively in the images that no matter the circumstances where it's almost when they were both at home if lachapelle i'll text messages today though that text or it's alex i have a very important issue character are you drown how great your little bit of safe it could but that's just a good fellow than a bag of music testing it was an instructive evening of the experiment days all i'd open it had first mutant a couple especially now that you want if they didn't like the idea that is me any plea and earlier in the day to me that an empire arrived at my destination only to encounter a friend to do was in a situation that i thought may not be the best for you to coming to you will those awarding not to come he hurt lucas who's looking she's going to go and how this all and i can't began and the king pirates and the danger and the poison can get out by now i have from young lives across a lot faster than this that i did and she realized it works best when you can be liberal with the icons right encounters treat them like they are chinese characters that each one mean toward worse i'll make it an two word like to win the post papery post on the paper said since you pair of girls and the reason she looks like a bat older woman stays and then the scroll and then the sad face with old here and then and alec stays wait a breadth airport district there at the lake don't run a bath and then drinks so where i fit alex come to drinks early in the day this is me saying alex a friend of mine in boulder family member has died we're having girls may do not come to drinks so friend of hers was dealing with the death in the family great and i had completely missed that one i thought she was saying she was with agree and fresh canvas other was not turning had drinks to the home and you may now and we skirted disaster there how they didn't find it interesting shellings to try and really something to you that felt a little heavy in alzado and a little pressing without being evil to take things to you there are two hundred stickers in his chair and failure to choose to write it but to just one appropriate lots of kulik and not much grieving and somber nobody wants going through the senate is pretty clear that the stickers were made but serious thought about how they'd be used like there's there's guaranteed the motion but to me anyway feels like they're made for the teen age range of emotions there's lots of flirting in lots of our region few boggling about homework lots of rain animals so i was confused i want to find out who was choosing what images that i get is my vocabulary because it's affecting my consenting to you mean the person who actually dramas the pictures and pixel it's exciting basically comes down what is the most fun david lan is designed a bunch of sticker sets for facebook and social network past many he comes up with the central character usually animal an forty expressions that's what he called them that each digger character till it's nothing much is forbidden love lisa has really come come up with the colors i'm natalie is a small creature that is basically made out of ice cream and a neapolitan the screen with the refill he maurice and looking at the target here and frigate pops up all that has a face basically unless i'm asked to figure out how how that popsicle can speak for us now is probably over one sinner but i really like the one word told a wrinkled because i work for dehydrated bash ice cream and does for lose the days when you're not quite a feeling herself you will the rundown wrinkled he feels wrinkled it's very visual lim said that he tried to think of expressions that you might make during the course of the gay brothers were the characters are drinking coffee waking up the morning or brushing her teeth but for the most part it's it's very emotional oriented feelings not proper now this hour with the arm stickers for facebook they did some research on their end through on their own set of like sixty expressions that um you can express with gesture face and those coverage turning point they started with the basics happy sad angry as it went on we discovered that it wasn't just expressions but also activities that were really resonating with people in some back on his website and there is a sheet of vomiting which is as the three armies without expressing and then another wanna get the kuala bear wang upping fuzzy robot looking past week be with the monk so i figured that the guy you could come up with that you something that i did know that communicating with images reagan stood on my home care he was going to explain to me how this new lexicon i was struggling with how it came to be a secret logic find it pena like you better with my technique gramm and my girlfriend indeed he is three years yeah the strategy to come help him not lawfully use the heartland of a pad at the moon the theme with many have risen lord to while we're forcing eighteen conventions and the and sometimes and the nut to the radio talk sexy things like elevator and this week i couldn't do that and most of the changes they were up in our hats that we use haven't really cartoon character as a how would you say it made you feel to get these creatures doing things compared to what i texted consumers fatter it felt fuller and they view it sent something which i need somebody telling you the u. s. m. is great and if our wonderful thing but getting this figure skating those energies was as sort of different experience how likely different experience and why is it preferred a she preferred the center lake oh juan bad looking sheepish to express your feelings than if he wrote it in plain old black and white okay so great for the lab staff the way worse for grocery shopping logistics and anything without arms and hooter urban we can snap photos understand the dickhead can choose your money sticker is an use it to communicate our special someone's maybe we're seeing the coming of age of a new kind of talking woody think alex it's the end of your experiment for human life that couple that communicates best to put any clothes for something i probably will from now on hat and i don't think in pictures in my head i think in stories in chains of causation of anything shows no this was an fused f. me like he actually helped and minitel why is it to help us to understand how much is that we say to each other and that is or was all for using he a tree trunk that makes sense that you mean like a text message now is that your tool there any price changes how you talk right we didn't one thing for in creating messages that feed into one hundred sixty character text message from format putting on things are easy to tie butterfly it all very clear utilitarian emotionally like that token gestures and so would we have this imagery which was the better for an lotions my english vocabulary rule will be for the smart phone conversation park ridge just and the motor cars that i could finish chavis is actually helped me see more of you are better for her and yes i have a little l. better the weekend bonnie goes a long way attack again just in there seems more if you can see some of the emerging conversation that alex and ivy had a nephew the stickers that he used their romance or whatever you want hauling they're on our website new taxes i lowered its value granted checking out to you for coming into the maready that alex goldmark of very special in by this dark were everything is eating a texting injury adventure is the tank c. d. c. next week