I was up before 7 a.m. this morning. That never makes for a good start. What was keeping me awake you ask? The unrest in Libya? Global Warming? An even MORE serious matter?
No. Not at all. I was thinking about emoticons.
You know emoticons, aka ‘smileys’ used as shorthand expressions in online conversations. MyEmoticons.com explains:
“The word ‘emoticon‘ is a combination of the words ‘emotion’ and ‘icon’ and is exactly that – an icon used to express msn emotions. The ‘smiley’ or the ‘smiley face’ is a stylized representation of a smiling human face with the most simple smiley being a yellow circle with two small dots representing eyes. That’s the theory. In reality as we look around websites similar to ours we see the words used interchangeably to mean the same thing e.g. some say. . . emoticons, some say. . .smileys but they are talking about the same images. It seems that Europeans tend to call them ‘emoticons’ and Americans tend to refer to them as ‘smileys’ and when you get to Asia, it’s different again.”
Like so many of us, I spend a lot of time online. I might be chatting on Skype, Facebook or Yahoo IM. It might be a quick email, but whether you call them emoticons or ‘smileys,’ one thing is for certain, I still have trouble taking someone who uses them seriously. When I see a person use them, I automatically assume their IQ is 50 points lower than it actually is.
Next time you’re having an online conversation, glance down at the page after a few minutes and observe the trail of smiley faces looking back at you. It looks like you’re talking to Mr. (of Ms.) Sunshine. . .constantly. . .regardless of the context.
That’s not to say emoticons are not useful. They are. Text conversations lack the non-verbal cues such as body language and tone – cues which give your conversation partner the true meaning behind what’s really being said. All I’m suggesting is a redesign. Perhaps it’s time emoticons grew up. After all, it’s nearly 30 years old. Maybe the new emoticons which look more like actual people and less like a balloon at a child’s fifth birthday party?
Let me start the brainstorming session on this topic. A symbol like this one (with image kindly borrowed via the fabulous Writing Factory blog) might be more appropriate to signify a smile in conversation from a gentleman?
When I started this post, I intended to argue that smiley face emoticons shouldn’t be used by real men. They’re just NOT manly, right? But I’ve changed my mind in the course of this dialogue. For the reasons stated above, we do need them. Emoticons have been around for a while and simply need to be brought up to the times. I’m open to suggestions for new designs-both for men and women.
There, I feel better. Time to go back to sleep.