A Brief History of the Emoticon and ASCII Art

#History

Wed, May 8th, 2013 10:00 by capnasty NEWS

Tom McCormack of rhizome takes us on a brief tour down memory lane looking not only at the history of the emoticon but also that of ASCII art, a very common sight for those raised when BBS were king.

Early interfaces for the Internet offered only official characters from the American Standard Code for Information Interchange (ASCII).

Developed and codified in the early 1960s through an obscure and prolonged collaboration between corporate technologists and government bureaucrats, ASCII (pronounced "ass-key") is based on the English alphabet, and comprises the characters we now recognize from contemporary computer keyboards.

Some of the most interesting artifacts of the early Web were termed "ASCII art," and consisted of pictograms and other visual patterns made from ASCII characters. The emoticon is an early, and relatively simple, example.

ASCII art was an aesthetic foreshadowing of what would become the culture’s social vision for the Web: the Internet would be the paradisaical city of our dreams; the ultimate melting pot; the high-tech global village we’d been promised. Home to a natural, nearly-inevitable democratic virtue, it would be a place where your identity could merge with the crowd, and even be shed entirely; and a super-speed air-tram could transport you from uptown to down in the amount of time it takes to register for a gonzo pornography subscription service.

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