FORT WAYNE, Ind.—Twelve-year-old Tyler Gottschalk had the surprise of his life today when a series of strange characters appeared on his phone.
“I was texting my friend Joe to see if he wanted to footstep French fry with me, and from out of nowhere these strange symbols appeared,” says Tyler. “It was really creepy.”
Tyler initially shut off his phone for the first time in its two-year existence, let it sit for five minutes, and then turned it back on.
“The guy at the Apple store did that once with my mom’s phone, so I gave it a try,” said Tyler. “At first I thought it’d worked, but as soon as I tried to send a text, there it was again. I thought for sure I’d been hacked,” said Tyler.
Tyler also considered the possibility that aliens were trying to contact him “Kind of like in ‘Earth to Echo,’” but gave up on that lead when they didn’t accept his FaceTime request. Unable to resolve the issue on his own, Tyler eventually enlisted his mother’s help.
“He was really upset,” said Marlene, 32. “He couldn’t even play Candy Crush Saga, all he did was stare at the symbols, pushing them repeatedly in an attempt to create some sort of meaningful message.”
“The symbols looked kind of familiar to me,” Marlene added. “Like I think I’d seen them in school at some point, maybe in history class. I don’t know.”
Unable to help her son directly, Marlene took Tyler to the University of Chicago’s archaeology department, where they were assisted by 56-year-old Professor Meriwether Hopkins.
“At first I thought they were joking, but Tyler was shaking and kept asking me if I’d ever seen ‘Earth to Echo,’” said Hopkins. “I explained how, before emojis, people spelled out words using letters, and then showed him how to switch back to his emoji keyboard.”
“It’s pretty crazy,” said Tyler. “I can’t believe people used to talk like that.”
Tyler added that emojis save him “loads of time.”
When asked how he plans to use all the time he saves, Tyler was too busy staring at his phone to respond, but eventually said there’s a new version of Angry Birds he’d really like to try if we'd "just leave him alone for a minute."