A cautious defense of emoticons :-)

In contrast with my usual language-fascist inclinations, I often indulge in emoticons online. And I think there are two things to be said in their defense.

First, written language has always included some visual element — from illuminated manuscripts and calligraphy to the weird little drawings that Vonnegut included in many of his novels. The imagery enriches the text, and I don’t really see why the ascii version should be scorned.

Second, we use text over the internet in ways different from the ways we’ve historically used printed text. Much printed text is used either between intimates, or in fairly ritualized contexts (“textbook,” “letter of complaint,” “editorial”), where things like humor are much easier to communicate in mere text because of, well, because of the metadata provided by the preexisting relationship or the formal context. Electronic text is more free-form — there aren’t really well-understood norms for, say, sending someone a message on an internet dating site. Electronic text is also often more immediate and conversational — like IMs — and emoticons add a layer of nonverbal communication that contributes part of what things like facial expression and tone of voice can contribute in older conversational contexts.

So I say break free from the chains of convention. Wear your smiley with pride.

(Adapted from an e-mail I sent to someone who scorns them greatly.)

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One Response to “A cautious defense of emoticons :-)”

  1. mariana Says:

    I guess the some people might be against the use of emoticons because they are pretty hard to be processed with natural language proagrams that interpret autlmatically the semantics of the entered texts. Imagine that it is pretty complicated for a program trained to deal with letters to deal with images.

    Just a thought about why they might not like the smailey or the other signs.

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