Digital world intersects with art world

They seem ubiquitous today, but emojis, the tiny graphic images used online that resemble modern hieroglyphics, are only 17 years old.

Originally created in 1999 by Shigetaka Kurita for Japanese mobile company NTT DoCoMo, the pictographs came in a set of 176.

After Apple incorporated emojis into its iPhone line starting in 2011 and other smartphone manufacturers did the same, the number of emojis jumped to more than 2,000 characters.

Last week, the Museum of Modern Art in New York acquired the original Japanese emoji set and added it to its permanent art collection ( So the digital world is now recognized for its contribution to art.

Many young digital users might not know it, but emojis were preceded by emoticons — sideways characters created on the keyboard to convey the emotional intent of a sentence or message.

For example, if I wanted a reader to know a sentence was meant to be funny, I’d end it with 🙂 which, when viewed sideways, looks like a smiling face. The short version 🙂 omitted the nose.

If I was being sarcastic, I might end a sentence with ;-).

If I was wishy-washy on something, I might type :-\.

The earliest documented use of emoticons in the digital world dates back to 1982, when Scott Fahlman of Carnegie Mellon University first proposed they be used to express emotion in messages (

Over the years, thousands of emoticon variations have been created. However, today, only a handful remain in common use: the smiley face :-), the frowny face 🙁 and the “wink-wink”/sarcastic face ;-).

Most text-based emoticons have been replaced by tiny, yellow “happy face” icons and emojis.

And before emoticons, there was ASCII art, dating back to the late 1960s and dot-matrix printers.

Using the standard 128 character ASCII set used by computers to print information, creative programmers would use the characters to draw images, generate large banners and reproduce art and photos (

These images relied on the fixed-width fonts in use at the time, meaning the spacing between each letter and character is exactly the same.

When variable width fonts came into use in the early 1990s, ASCII art declined in popularity — though it retains a strong and stubborn following today.

You can view some great examples of ASCII art at Chris’ ASCII Art Collection (, ASCIIWorld ( and ASCII Art Dictionary (


Digital common sense

A 19-year-old university student in Texas decided to take a SnapChat selfie while driving. Strike 1: Digitally distracted while driving.

She decided to make things interesting by making it a topless selfie. Strike 2: Disrobing while driving.

She had an open bottle of wine in a cup holder in the car. Strike 3: Drinking while driving.

With her eyes off the road, she crashed into the back of a stopped car.

A stopped police car.

She was arrested (

Driving while digitally distracted, including taking selfies and texting, is as dangerous as driving while intoxicated (

According to U.S. government statistics, 10 percent of drivers ages 15 to 19 involved in fatal crashes were engaged in distracted driving at the time (

Drivers in their 20s represent 38 percent of distracted drivers who were using their cellphones in fatal crashes.

Keith Darnay is the Tribune’s online manager and has worked in the online world for more than two decades. His site is at


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