A Literacy of the Imagination

a deeper look at innovation through the lenses of media, technology, venture investment and hyperculture

Digital Hieroglyphics

ancient hieroglyphics.png
Twitter dialects.png

When building technologies, you quickly realize what the thresholds of math and language bring to bear on the development of algorithms, as well as the scalability of platforms. It's not entirely surprising that the data visualization space has exploded; what we have trouble computing we can just as easily replace with visual or illustrative cues.

A concept I've been exploring for some time is digital hieroglyphics  -- a sort of pattern recognition protocol that finds unique commonalities between math, language and interpretive methods for their use.

Some have defined this as a 'shortening' or an extrapolation of character-based languages. Here's one project that takes a textual approach.

Others focus on devices and media channels as a means to understand behavioral or cultural dynamics.

Another approach is to look at combinations of protocols in terms of frequency, pulse, cadence and density. One example is how can we analyze hashtag densities in Heardable, a way of recognizing visual patterns that allow us to do smaller, more relevant, yet deeper dives into the information found within myriad online content. It's analogous to finding geological formations and then choosing specific points to excavate.

New York Times_Hashtag Density.png

Some ancient languages have literally been reinvented through physical densities and are spreading through social technologies like Twitter. Bayabayin is a pre-Hispanic syllabary that is written in Tagalog, which produces languages such as Pampango and Visayan.

Tagalog Twitter

What we find in the analysis of these languages - specifically their patterns - are interrelationships. These enable us to better understand context, and how to apply it once we start to see its operations. Operating context is what allows us to make the associations that lead to rich insight. How is operating context measured or computed? In a variety of ways, not the least of which brings the connecting points you see in the graphic below back to foundational mathematics.


In a revolutionary arithmetic system built by my friends at Square Zero, we are discovering that math itself is a visual language that can transcend the boundaries of application and interpretation through patterns and symbols. Simply put, symbols become representations of math and language. Imagine that character-based languages like Chinese or Hebrew no longer require a translation layer because they have an interpretative layer already built into the system.

Square Zero symbols

Whatever approach we take, I suspect that in the very near future our filter bubbles, fixed algorithms and our struggles with 'big data' will give rise to new, emergent languages that marry our communications and computations in amazing, and increasingly artistic, ways. Unlike their ancient predecessors who became extinct in far-off dwellings, perhaps digital hieroglyphics are here to stay.