Home > Interaction > Why I Use Emoticons

Why I Use Emoticons

Do you do a lot of texting?  E-mailing?  Tweeting?  Facebooking?  Livejournaling?  Other web-related things?

I do a fair amount of all that and more and I freely admit that I make use of emoticons.  You know, those little symbols people make out of their keystrokes to show that they’re smiling    :), winking ;), frowning 😦 or that they’re Abraham Lincoln ==):-)= or Cthulhu (:€.

I’ve noticed that for the most part people tend to be divided into two camps over the use of emoticons.  Either they love them or they hate them.  Emoticon lovers tend to slather all their posts with little smiley faces, “leet” speech, acronyms and deliberately misspelled words and phrases (which are often called “lolcatz” for reasons it would probably take most of a second article to fully explain).  Haters of emoticons decry them as ignorant and childish and tend to characterize people who use them as annoying zeebs with cuteness fixations who don’t know how to properly express themselves in writing.

I’m not deeply enamored of emoticons but I do make fairly frequent use of them.  Why?  Because they’re handy communication tools.

The trouble with the vast majority of internet-based communication is that there’s no way to determine the tone of the person writing to you.  Let’s say you’ve just sent out a text message letting your circle of friends know you’re about to go on a date.  You immediately get a message back from Bob that says:

“Don’t stay out too late!”

Now I’m sure you see the problem here.  Is Bob actually telling you not to stay out too late or is he joking?  Does he actually think that you’re still a teenager and that you can’t take care of yourself or is he just doing some harmless ribbing?  Is Bob being a supportive pal or an overbearing jerk?

The fact of the matter is that Bob has made a perfectly innocuous statement.  But now it’s spinning around and around in your head.   When you go to meet your date you’re so angry, frustrated and nervous that you mistake them for a valet and toss them your keys, upon which they angrily get into your vehicle and drive off.  So, now, having no car and having realized your mistake there’s nothing you can do but sit at the bar drinking yourself into a depressed stupor until they throw you out.  Then you wander the streets drunkenly until you’re accosted by muggers and beaten to a bloody pulp.

But, fear not!  With the use of a single emoticon the whole nightmare scenario can be avoided!

Imagine if, instead of sending the message, “Don’t stay out too late!” Bob texts, “Don’t stay out too late! ;)”  You see that?  Bob is winking at you!  That means he’s just kidding around!  He’s really wishing you well on your date after all.  What a scamp Bob is!  Now you can go out on your date with a clear head and perhaps have sex later in the evening.

So that’s pretty much why I use emoticons.  Not only does it help prevent people from being beaten into unconsciousness by roving gangs of angry youths, but it also helps keep people from thinking I’m a total jerk. 😉

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Music by Dave Girtman & John Philip Sousa
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  1. October 8, 2009 at 1:34 pm

    “Now you can go out on your date with a clear head and perhaps have sex later in the evening.” “So that’s pretty much why I use emoticons.”

    Those two sentences, back to back, spin to a wholly delightful alternate message for this article: “Use emoteys; have more sex!”

    Outside of this brilliant conclusion, awesome article, Jim. I really enjoy reading your work. ^_^

    • October 8, 2009 at 4:34 pm

      Thanks! I’m glad you caught that, by the way. 😀

  2. Angie
    October 29, 2009 at 6:16 pm

    LOVE the catastrophic thinking. I engage in that myself.

    As usual, Jim, you have made me laugh! 🙂

    • October 29, 2009 at 6:45 pm

      Thank you kindly! I do that quite a bit, myself, though admittedly not usually with Sousa playing in the background. 🙂

  3. KJ
    November 6, 2009 at 12:53 pm

    Interesting, I also wrote about this, but had the opposite opinion:
    http://kelliejane.posterous.com/the-winky-faceification-of-social-networking

  4. November 6, 2009 at 6:11 pm

    I’ve got to admit, the initiative you talk about in your post is very tempting!

    I don’t know that people are necessarily being trained to look for emoticons by their use, though. Some folks, maybe, but I think it’s part of a bigger problem — the adult attention span has shrunk down to pocket-size, likely because of the way the internet works in general. With some folks, it doesn’t matter HOW many signs you throw at them – they’re just not paying attention.

    That said, even when folks ARE paying attention, things can still get kind of foggy. Believe me, I’d love to be able to do my best Jonathan Swift imitation online (actually that sounds like fun, so despite all this I may try it some time), but the very nature of internet communication works against that kind of thing. A lot of times I have trouble figuring out what someone really means in a text/Tweet/etc even after I’ve stared at it for twenty minutes considering every possible angle on it — largely because I simply don’t have enough information. Nothing really compares to the level of info you get when you’re actually standing next to someone in Meatspace!

    I’ll freely admit that I probably worry more about hurting people’s feelings than most folks do, but that’s something I see as more of a strength than a weakness. It at the very least means I’m definitely paying attention.

    Still, best of luck on your Colbertification initiative! If you manage to pull it off, it’d be a wondrous thing indeed — and I say that in all seriousness. It’d be very cool. (But, that said, you see how many extra words I just added when I could have just gone 🙂 ?! Hahaha!)

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