Consider the Octopus

A few posts ago we were talking about the ever-growing presence of emoticons, emojis, animated gifs, and other visual forms of communicating; and also, how really it has become an ever-growing presence because technology has also become the same, ubiquitous almost.

There’s another ad that’s been circulating around, I think it’s for a brand of phones, or laptops, or both, where it’s running with the slogan, something more or less like: feel comfortable with technology. The image is of a couple sharing a chair, girl sitting on top of boy, hugging each other, while using computers at the same time. And this isn’t an ironic Banksy-esque street art parody. This is the real deal. Feel comfortable with the machine. Now, I know what you’re thinking: The Matrix was right! Run awaay! But hold on, here’s the question:

Is this all just big tech companies associating the human need to communicate and socialize with the sole purpose of just getting us to buy more products, hypnotized and isolated by the monitor’s glow, and therefore emoticons are just a fad? (The paranoid in me says yes!) Or, is this just the natural next step in the evolution of human in the digital age, regardless of what TV ads want us to buy? (The sci-fi fan/optimist in me says yes!).

Hold that thought. Let’s go underwater for a bit:

Creatures living in the ocean live in a very complex visual environment, with different depths of field, and perspectives, and have developed a fairly complex way of communicating. All purely visual. An obvious example I suppose would be the blowfish that inflates itself to appear as a predatory threat. But let’s talk cephalopods.

A cephalopod is a family of marine animals, characterized by their body symmetry, prominent head, and tentacles. We’re talking squid, octopus, cuttlefish. The octopus, for example, can change its color. It’s packed with little cells under its skin called chromatophores that can appear up top on the surface of the skin to prominently change its body color. But it’s not only used for camouflage.  Sure, they can squirt ink, but they can’t write, nor can they make a sequence of mouth noises to communicate, like we do.

Within this array of stripes, dots, and shifts in hue and tone is a visible language. And if you look up images of the octopus, you’ll see the wide variety of changes it takes to communicate something. It isn’t simply camouflage. It adapts itself physically, visually, to a linguistic event, let’s say. Phrases like “I see what you mean” takes a different meaning here almost.

Back on land, escaping the ocean, leaving the jungle behind, our species has gone through different stages of forming communication, from caveman grunts and the Egyptian hieroglyphs, to broadcasting speeches of kings and alphabet languages. There was quite a lot of hubbub last month when the Oxford Dictionary chose an emoji as 2015’s Word of the Year. (No, serious, look it up later!) Gee, even I was almost offended. But why? Is it because we’re consciously participating in technology that’s dumbing us down and the way we communicate (like maybe people thought about chat rooms and lol lmao asl brb, etc.) or is it that we’re experiencing a sincere change in our species, yet another slowly-but-surely, adapt-or-die next step in human evolution? Consider the octopus. Maybe it’s all connected.