Welcome to another trip back in time. This time we’ll look at … ASCII art.
The piece of ASCII art shown above was included in an email I received circa 1998. Those of “a certain age” may remember when ASCII art showed up in email signatures, at the bottom of Usenet articles, and in forum posts. Back then, most communication tools, computer displays, and printers used fixed-width fonts. Pictures couldn’t be represented in emails or on Usenet. So creativity prevailed: Users used their keyboards and typewriters to create pictures.
The train shown above is relatively simple ASCII art when compared to other ASCII creations out there (examples here, here, and here). Even emoticons can be thought of as ASCII art, albeit at its most basic.
The rise of ASCII art can be traced to the 1970’s and early 1980’s with the growth of bulletin boards and later with Internet email and Usenet newsgroups. ASCII art requires a fixed-width font (such as Courier). In the 1990’s ASCII art began to wane when email clients and monitors were able to display variable-width fonts (such as Arial).
I once tried to design an ASCII banner/ribbon that I used in a “sig file” in my early email. The idea was that my contact information would be ‘on” the ribbon. I got hopelessly cross-eyed while working on it, so I gave up and “lifted” one from one of the many sig files out there.
I kind of miss the ASCII art. Now nearly all of the email I get has been created on a “rich-text” editor, with a variable-width font. Even though I have my email setting to Plain Text, nary an occurrence of ASCII art slips through. Now, if someone wants to include a picture in their sig file, well, they just add a picture. Gone (for the most part) are the days of wonderful, clever, and yes, artistic creations using just the keys on your keyboard.