eCute! : the evolution and impact of cute culture on social media


Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis

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  • Yi Hsuan YANG

Related Research Unit(s)


Awarding Institution
  • Zhi-Qiang LIU (Supervisor)
Award date2 Oct 2013


"The world is getting cute!" Nothing is safe from the cute invasion - it is socially and culturally contagious: From subway trains to airplanes; from police station to commercial banks; and from educational pamphlets to public warning signs, cute little characters in all imaginable, or surprising, forms and shapes are everywhere, attracting your attention, offering you help, and if nothing else, acting like ambassadors simply smiling at you cheerfully. With the wide availability of the Internet, and especially the ubiquitous mobile computing, 4G mobile communications technology and social networks, nowadays, cute signs - embodied as emoticons - are rapidly extending their reach in cyberspace, roaming our blogs, instant messengers, social media, emails and mobile messages, and social agents in our daily interactions. Visually cute symbols and graphics are natural lubricant in virtual social interactions and conducive to establishing mutual understanding. Since the 1970s, Japanese 'Kawaii' (Cute) culture has dramatically gained worldwide popularity. With the emergence of Web 2.0 in the 21st century, we are in an information revolution that is more extensive, profound and significant than Gutengerg's invention of the Western printing process; and for the first time in history, we have almost limitless access to information and means to near real-time personalized interaction aided by a plethora of the ever-popular cute emoticons that are swelling in number by the minute. In addition, as a pioneering visual approach to e-communication, Kawaii has a strong impact on digital literacy. What is the underlying meaning of this new phenomenon? What makes cuteness irresistible to consumers? How has Kawaii culture evolved from product ornaments to its new role in Web 2.0 and mobile life style? What type of new literacy on the Internet is it enabling? What are the differences between the more traditional text-based and graphical cute symbols in communication? How does cuteness affect user identities, education and social lives in the increasingly mobile era—the post-Web era? What are their implications in commerce? Although numerous scholars are aware that Kawaii is no longer a term associated merely with Japanese local art or Manga, there have been little detailed research to tackle these questions. In this dissertation I will explore the Kawaii cultural phenomenon and discuss its impact and influence on social interaction in the era of the personal web and mobile communication. Basing on linguistic theory, I will also investigate the linguistic rules of comics and Comicons in online communication. I will examine the semantic richness in the Kawaii visual culture, Japanese comic language and e-literacy. Furthermore I will study the connection between Kawaii and user-generated emoticons, e.g., Emoticons 2.0 or "Comicons", and the shifting social meanings, ideology and functions of cuteness. Through this study I will show that an important and influential new visual communication language, Cutemmunication, has emerged and is becoming an integral part of and a significant form in human interactions; and consequently plays an important role in helping bridge the gap between cultures and societies that are increasingly on the move.

    Research areas

  • Social aspects, Charm, Social aspecst, Popular culture, Social media, Childishness, Aesthetics