Kids around world chat in pictures

Staff writer

Children who speak different languages can be friends if they can  
find a way to communicate.

A sample message in pictorial symbols, "I am wondering about what I  
should wear tomorrow," is displayed on a computer.

A nonprofit organization in Tokyo will officially launch a project  
Sunday based on this notion, connecting children in different  
countries over the Internet through a language of pictograms.

Using a special computer network and new software, 23 Japanese kids  
in Tokyo and 13 South Koreans in Seoul will send each other messages  
written in pictorial symbols and share their art and music.

Sunday's exchange will take place at an office in Tokyo's Shibuya  
Ward and Kyoung Hee University in Seoul.

Pangaea, a Tokyo-based NPO, has developed the computer software,  
which has a dictionary with 200 pictograms it calls "pictons." The  
pictons were designed by about 30 people, including students at Tama  
Art University in Tokyo.

In the language, the symbol of a human face means 'I' and a heart  
shape means 'like."

Together with another symbol of a TV game, the three pictorial  
symbols form the sentence, "I like TV games."

In addition to sending pictorial messages, the system enables the  
children to introduce themselves through pictures and share their art  
and music online, according to the NPO.

The NPO has tested the system already in a few public elementary and  
junior high schools in Tokyo's Shibuya Ward, according to Pangaea  
President Yumiko Mori.

In January, computers will be set up at a private school in Kenya and  
a public facility for children in Austria. The group aims to increase  
the number of bases to 200 by 2008.

Mori, a visiting scientist at the Media Laboratory at Massachusetts  
Institute of Technology, first had the idea of connecting children  
globally after seeing prejudice against Muslims and Arabs in the U.S.  
following the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on the U.S.

If children have the opportunity to get to know people in other  
countries through the Internet, they will form personal bonds and not  
stereotype people, which will lead to peace in the world, Mori reckoned.

"I thought children could overcome such barriers as language, culture  
and distance if I offered a universal playground for them," she said.

The Japan Times: Nov. 18, 2005
(C) All rights reserved