Each day I use wireless or “Wi-Fi” technology to communicate with my 12 year-old daughter. Sometimes we text (using actual words!), but mostly we use emoji’s, small digital images or icons used to express an idea or emotion.
Things like "made the bus" quickly become
"Home from school" is
Emoji were created by Shigetaka Kurita, an employee of NTT Docomo, a mobile service provider in Japan in the late 1990s. Inspired by Japanese comic books (kanji) and Chinese characters and street signs (manja), Kurita created simple cartoon images that could be used during “messaging.” Emoji convey meaning that text sometimes cannot. They also are easy to use and fun. There are hundreds of emoji available too. No doubt someone is hard at work creating one for archives and archivists!
A typical morning exchange in our household includes the following string of emoji:
Translation: “Checking in. On my way to the school bus. Stay strong. Have a good day. Love you.”
As is seen in this 1922 sheet music example from the Sam Devincent Collection of Illustrated Sheet Music the practice of communicating by wireless expressed by symbols isn’t new. Here a couple separated by a continent or two—one balmy and tropical, the other cold and snowy—exchange their feelings using the first wireless technology. Developed around the turn of the 20th century by inventor Guglielmo Marconi (1874-1937), and others, wireless offered users an almost instant form of communicating across vast distances and in real time. By 1922, wireless communications could be either a one-way broadcast from a transmitter to many receivers or a two-way conversation between small radio stations. Used primarily by the military and businesses for official and commercial purposes, wireless also offered the general public a personal use, staying in touch with family.
Harry Hansen, then literary editor for The Nation, said of wireless in 1926, “There it is, up in the air, absolutely free, waiting for you to pull it down without the aid of electricity.” In reality wireless service wasn’t free in 1922 and, as the monthly bill from my provider proves, it certainly isn’t free today.
Conveying their love through the wires, you can hear the couple recite:
There's a wireless station down in my heart,
And it calls in my dreams all night long;
It is operating just for you and me,
And it's spanning the hills and the sea.
Your message I love the best,
The call to happiness.
Send each caress to me by wireless,
Its tenderness you can to me express;
I love to call you dear,
Across the atmosphere.
I hear your voice,
It thrills me through and through.
My lonely heart sighs for you, just for you!
Oh, radio-phone the answer "Yes!"
Kiss me by wireless.
There's a pulsating current,
Runs 'round my heart,
It's attuned with your own sweetheart mine;
Though you're far away,
We're never apart
For the radio station's my heart.
To learn more about the Archive's Center's collections documenting the history of wireless technology, explore online the Western Union Telegraph Company Records, the Anglo-American Telegraph Company Records, and the George Clark Collection of Radioana. Or, visit our reading room in person; we have Wi-Fi!