I first started writing this a while ago and actually wasn't planning on posting it here, thinking not many would empathize, but then I saw a great comment by Grocheio that was pointed out by Ira Socol, so I guess I'm not alone! Here I go...

Do you ever use emoticons? In case you're not familiar with the term, what I mean is do you ever include combinations of symbols such as :-) or :-P in your writing, to give your audience a better indication of your tone? For many, the use of such symbols might seem unprofessional and immature. Now let's stop, think about that for a moment and ask, "Why?" Is it simply because these emoticons, or smileys, as they're often called, were invented by a younger generation?

It seems to me that emoticons are a natural development of language. As text has become a more common medium of communication, emoticons have helped us better set the tone and often avoid (sometimes grave) misunderstandings. I first started using emoticons back in my teenage years, when I spent a lot of time on instant messengers. I was reluctant to use them at first, as I associated them with the frivolous communication of a 14-year-old girl. I was stubborn for a long time, but one fateful day, I cracked. I wrote something sarcastic, sent it, then read it back and realized to my horror that it could be deeply insulting if interpreted as a serious comment. I didn't know what to do - then suddenly, before I knew what was happening, I typed out a ;-) and I was saved! The appropriate tone was set, thanks to a loathsome emoticon. From that moment on, my attitude began to change and I started feeling more comfortable as all my peers seemed to be embracing this new trend as well.

It took a while before emoticons also drifted into my emails. I was careful though - I didn't want someone who didn't know me well to mistake my emoticon usage for immaturity. And I'm still careful with emoticons. I struggle with formal emails, where they're often seen as less acceptable. I spend far more time than I'd like trying to make sure there can be no misunderstandings. "Am I being too terse? Do I sound frustrated or impatient?" It can be very difficult to convey the warmth, respect, gratitude and interest that I am far more easily able to communicate face-to-face. Emoticons don't fix the problem, but they definitely help!

Now don't get me wrong - I still think there are times when using emoticons might be inappropriate. Not everything needs (or should have) an emotional context (like an argumentative essay, for example). But I do think emoticons are generally underused and hope (for my own sake) that they're soon able to shake the bad rep they've somehow acquired. Maybe we can help by vowing to never again underestimate those bold pioneers in communication we call 14-year-old girls. :-)

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Tags: emoticons, smileys, writing

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