Read The Emoticon Generation Online

Authors: Guy Hasson

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The Emoticon Generation

BOOK: The Emoticon Generation
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Table of Contents

The Emoticon Generation

Guy Hasson

The Emoticon Generation

Nothing Guy Hasson's The Emoticon Generation features seven stories about life-changes brought about by our new electronic generation: stories that blur the borders between our world and science fiction, stories that make you ask, 'Has this already happened? Is that actually true?

In this collection you'll find a man who, after losing his fiancée to a terrible accident, seeks to learn if true love really exists; a girl, hardly a teen, who searches for her father only to learn a terrible truth about herself; a man who wants to immortalize his genius but ends up tricking himself out of it; an old hero whose entire life unravels when the truth about his heroic act is revealed; a harmless birthday gift that triggers a profound search into the depths of a young couple's relationship; and more.

Published by infinity plus at Smashwords
www.infinityplus.co.uk/books
Follow @ipebooks on Twitter

© Guy Hasson 2012

ISBN: 9781301239405

This ebook is licensed for your personal enjoyment only. This ebook may not be re-sold or given away to other people. If you would like to share this book with another person, please purchase an additional copy for each recipient. If you’re reading this book and did not purchase it, or it was not purchased for your use only, then please return to Smashwords.com and purchase your own copy. Thank you for respecting the hard work of this author.

No portion of this book may be reproduced by any means, mechanical, electronic, or otherwise, without first obtaining the permission of the copyright holder.

The moral right of Guy Hasson to be identified as the author of this work has been asserted by him in accordance with the UK Copyright, Designs and Patents Act of 1988.

Electronic Version by Baen Books

Generation E:
The Emoticon Generation

Six months ago, I snuck into my fifteen-year-old daughter’s room when she was asleep, ‘borrowed’ her iPhone, and started checking up on everything she’s been up to.

It was late at night, and I’d just seen Brian Williams profile pedophiles on the web. They’re out there, talking to teenagers anonymously, luring them away from their computers and into meetings in the physical world. Parents have no idea what their teenagers are doing on the web. And, yes, Williams gave us the money line, “Do you know what
your
kids are up to?”

The path from there to exercising my parental right to violate my daughter’s underage privacy was short: five minutes, all told.

Here’s what I discovered. For the last two weeks she has been getting literally tens of thousands of different-colored exclamation marks and tens of thousands of little moon-shaped icons on her iPhone from almost all her contacts. Thousands of the moon icons were half-moons, thousands were quarter-moons, thousands more were eighth-moons, and the rest were even smaller than that. At the same time, she had been sending the same enigmatic moon icons and strangely-colored exclamation marks back to almost all her contacts. By. The. Tens. Of. Thousands.

Do
you
know what the moon icons mean or why exclamation marks have colors?
I
certainly didn’t.

During the hour before she fell asleep, she had been in contact with a certain boy in her class who even
I
know she has been eyeing from afar ever since the school year began. She had sent him in that hour nearly 4,000 moon-shaped icons. He had sent back roughly the same number of the same icons. Keep in mind that each one of these icons needs to be sent separately, in a separate action by the user.

What could those icons possibly mean? What reason would anyone have to send the same thing over and over again thousands of times? How could this occupy an entire hour of a hormonal teenager with borderline ADD? How is exchanging the
same
icon over and over again speaking or communicating in any way? What equivalent would this have in my world? What word or sound can I possibly exchange so many times in such a short time and still be communicating?

The good news was that I could see no sign of her being in contact with people who were complete strangers to me. The bad news was that my self-image as a hip, cool, happening, young 42-year-old dad who is actually a teenager at heart was permanently shattered.

“Do you know what
your
daughter
is doing?” an imaginary anchor in my head pestered. And my answer was that even though she seemed to be safe from sexual predators, I didn’t know a single thing about what she was doing.

There’s an Alex P. Keaton line from
Family Ties
that always plays in my head when I think about my parental skills: “I’m hip. I’m cool. I’m a happening fool.” That night, I realized that actually says it all: That line is from the eighties, and so am I. I’m not hip. I’m not cool. But my happening foolishness was happening fully.

She was speaking a different language, if you could call those icons language. She was living in an emotional and physical and social world I knew nothing about.

I panicked. I wanted to wake her up, confront her, question her, and blame her for not sharing everything with me. How dare she think I wouldn’t understand her? How dare she think I’m not a teenager in an aged body?

By the time I put the iPhone back in its place, I realized that confronting her would get me attitude, indignation, and permanent distance.

I decided to go with my strengths. I’m a journalist, and this was a social phenomenon. I would research. I would embed myself. I would interview people. I would make the social phenomenon something I know so well as to write a book about.

And then, when I
know
what her world consists of, I would talk to her, face to face, as equals. And I would already be
in
. I would already
understand
. I’d be a native.

The months that followed were months of revelations about the current state of American teenagers, about a slow and inexorable move toward a society completely different from the society we, our parents, our grandparents, and our forefathers imagined. America is beginning to move in an opposite direction, one we never knew existed.

It begins with the simple things.

Underneath the surface, underneath the zit-faced, clichéd, up-yours visage of most teenagers, behind their annoying you-don’t-understand-me attitude is a world most of us adults are not even aware of. They have their own concepts, new words, different interests, unique ideals and strange ideas that we may find incomprehensible. My trip into the world of the teenagers uncovered the story of an entire generation most of us know nothing about: Generation Emoticon. Or, as they prefer to call themselves, Generation E.

Do
you
know what your teenager is doing? No, you don’t.

I’m here to tell you all about it.

~

Blue Diamond is one of the smallest towns in Nevada. Much smaller than Moapa Town, NV (population 928 at last count), smaller even than its neighboring Gabs, NV (318 residents, the sign claims), but bigger than Goodsprings, NV (218 good people, thank you very much). Blue Diamond sports 281 people since the last death or birth, and is set in the midst of beautiful mountains, much greener than the mountains of Arizona (to the south) and California (to its more immediate west). Nonetheless, the place can honestly be described as a hole. You can’t find a Wi-Fi connection to save your life, and even a cellular connection is nonexistent: I had to drive an hour away from the town to be able to check if my daughter got home safely. And yet, in the heart of Blue Diamond, NV, my interviewee has been able to set the hearts of Generation E ablaze, using a dial-up internet connection from the phone in his mother’s basement.

Revolution begins at the oddest places.

Anthony Rockwell is 19 years old. The Beauty Fairy has not blessed this young man’s face, not even a little. And yet he would surely look much better if he took a shower more than once a week and did not wash his face only every other day. His clothes smell as if they’ve been worn for three days straight and are stained with many a-spilled drinks (Coke, not coffee or alcohol). But when you look at his face, there is power in his eyes, determination and excitement you’re only used to seeing in true leaders. And when he talks, once you begin to understand that he isn’t talking nonsense and deserves some respect, you can’t help but understand how teenage girls fall at his feet, at least in cyberspace.

Anthony is a poet. Now, before reading the next couple of sentences, you had better sit down. I am going to say something entirely ridiculous, but true: Anthony writes emoticon poetry. “I am the first emoticon poet,” he says with unabashed pride. “I’m making history.”

If your reaction was anything like mine, it was derisive, dismissive, and bordered on laughter. And yet this is exactly where we all get to feel old. My grandparents thought my parents’ Rock & Roll music was noise without melody. My parents thought my Guns N’ Roses records were noise without music. Are we not dismissing our kids’ interest in emoticon art in the same way our parents dismissed
our
interest in art?

How far away was emoticon poetry, really? Teenagers all around the country have been using less and less words. In their tweets (“tweets for the twits” I used to call them, but no longer), they are bound to 140 characters alone. Their words no longer needed to be spelled correctly (cu l8r), spelled at all (ROTFL, OMG, IMO) or even be real words (w00t, pwned). Online magazines (called ‘webzines’ or ‘e-zines’) have been in existence for well over a decade, but now there are webzines called ‘twitterzines’, dedicated only to stories that are up to 140 characters long, stories that can be tweeted. Dozens of ‘writers’ send their ‘stories’ to these magazines, which then reject the ‘bad ones’ and accept the ‘good ones’. These magazines actually have growing readerships, which ‘read’ the ‘stories’ and respond online. Find it hard to believe? Google it. Go ahead. I’ll wait.

With no room for plot, with no room for characterization, development, plot twists, or depth of any kind, these stories are becoming the latest great fad and its writers are becoming ‘authors’. A few of these magazines have lately created paperback anthologies of the best such stories published online. And us grownups? We just don’t get it. We’re old and we’re outdated.

Welcome to Wonderland, folks. This is just the first stop.

Anthony believes words are bad. “We don’t need words. We need feelings.”

Anthony doesn’t use many words. I’m not sure he has the vocabulary.

But this man is a star, and the Generation E’s see him as we saw Salinger. It’s worth it to stick with Anthony and peel back onion layer after onion layer, to get past the teenager and get at his point. Because not only are his basic points valid, but they may usurp us one day.

Anthony is saying that words shouldn’t be used to describe, but rather to convey feelings. It doesn’t matter what words you use to get the girl, it’s the getting of the girl that matters to you. Stories evoke emotional responses, he claims. Which is what he’s trying to do when talking to me. He’s trying to make me feel the way he feels about words.

“Emoticons aren’t words. Emoticons are emotions.” He’s not talking about the smiley face or the sad face or the winking face that we all know. There are thousands of emoticons on the web, most of which are trademarked and their use needs to be bought.

Every poet and writer has a dictionary. Today’s college students don’t need to carry one, they access their dictionaries online. Anthony has a completely different ‘dictionary’. Its first page has a horrified face, a face giving us the finger, a mooning, a devil smiley face, a smiley face with dollars in its eyes, a smiley with an S&M mask, and a few more. That is the first page out of hundreds.

As we speak, the computer behind him, set on a social network site and linked only through his mother’s slow dial-up connection, gives a gentle ‘ding’ noise every few seconds. Every ding is a new user sending him a ‘heart’. More than 95% of these are female fans. More than 99% of these are under 19. These fans don’t know who Anthony is. They only know him as Anthony R. They have never seen his picture and they don’t know his real name. They only know him through his web presence and, more importantly, through his poems.

Until my interview, no one knew Anthony’s real name or location. When I convinced Anthony R. to speak to me, I promised him anonymity. He didn’t want it. He’s using this article to out himself.

Towards the end of our interview, when I ask him what he thinks will happen to him now that everyone will know who he is, he gives me his prediction that his tiny town of Blue Diamond, NV, will now become a Mecca for Generation E’s. No doubt there is also a not-so-small element there of wanting to finally physically meet his female fans.

It could be that the fandom of Anthony R. is a passing teenage fad. Maybe the adoring girls will disappear as soon as they see another shiny object, like a new vampire movie. But the truth is that his bottom line is both angering and has merit: “[A] big vocabulary hurts poetry.”

A big vocabulary gets in the way of the poet, he says. At the middle of the onion peel is his claim that in the beginning, when languages formed, there were very few words. Language, by necessity, was poetic, because people were forced to describe concepts, emotions, object, and events creatively, using only the words that existed. You had to extract metaphors and similes and meaning from the few words that you had. This form of ‘extracting’ is lyrical, and it’s beautiful.

It’s hard to admit, but if you check with linguists, you’ll find that he kind of has a point. Dr. Jim Shalikashvili, a linguist at the University of Pennsylvania, happens to be of Georgian ancestry. During our first phone conversation, without knowing the subject of our conversation and without preparation, he had an example at the ready, “The best example I can give you off the cuff,” he says in his raspy, excited voice, “comes from my parents’ mother tongue. Back home, when you asked a woman ‘Would you marry me’, the literal meaning of your question was ‘Would you take a life-long trip with me’. Isn’t that beautiful?” It is. Georgian is an old language with a small vocabulary relative to English.

A week after our phone conversation, when I met Dr. Shalikashvili in his office, he was armed with dozens of examples. “The Bible is rife with these,” he says, his lean fingers going over the list, his eyes darting from me to the list, then back again. “Don’t forget that it was originally written in ancient Hebrew and the now dead Aramaic.”

He begins to read off the page, “The ancient Hebrew lacked a word for ‘criterion’, and so they used ‘arm of measure’. ‘Arm’ at the time was like ‘foot’ today, a measuring criteria. It was like saying ‘ruler of measure’. They put together old words to create new ones.”

Another example from ancient Hebrew is a word literally meaning ‘forgettings’. God tells the Hebrews that when they harvest the land to purposefully forget a bit of the harvest, so that the poor may collect it. That which had been left was ‘forgettings’.

“In many languages, until very recently,” Dr. Shalikashvili says, “the words standing for ‘signing a contract’ were ‘giving a handshake’, though not in English.”

How about English, then?

“Sure. ‘Roots’ means ‘ancestry’, but its origin, of course, comes from plant life. Its use is beautiful. To ‘shadow’ someone is to follow that person in a specific way. We borrowed the use of a word we already had in another context, to create a word we didn’t have. It’s quite poetic.”

But surely Anthony’s ideas do not cover all elements of poetry. I quote to Anthony, off the top of my head, my favorite Shakespeare line, “My heart has turned to stone. I strike it, and it hurts my hand.” Shakespeare’s line is beautiful, and he doesn’t use any word tricks.

“I don’t care,” says Anthony.

How about Shelley’s
Ozymandias
? I quote what little I remember from it and it’s still beautiful. Shelley doesn’t use words there in Anthony’s special way.

BOOK: The Emoticon Generation
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