I will go out on a limb and say that emoticons play a large role in our contemporary text messaging language. Not something reserved strictly to teenage girls anymore, you can find pretty much anyone with a smart phone inserting emoticons into their texting conversations.
My guess is that most of you have seen emoticons before, but not all of you might know the term. At the start, emoticons were just facial expressions made by using colons, semi-colons, parentheses, etc . These days they are full blown mini pieces of clip art that people use to add expression and meaning to their text messages. To access a database that contains hundreds of these pictures, most people simply download an app that sets them up.
Remember five years ago when grammar buffs and educators were appalled and scared out of their minds about the prospect of the short hand ways of texting and instant messaging ending up in the academic arena? Well, because of the widespread use and acceptance of emoticons I think seventh grade teachers have even more to worry about than just seeing “IMO” or “BTW” on a report. I think they should start bracing themselves to see images of cats with hearts for eyes, Pac-Man fruit, and praying hands on the next term paper. I really don’t think it is that far off.
But besides the extreme examples of emoticons corrupting the educational system, what can they really offer the millions of people using them for their intended purpose (communicating via text)?
In my opinion, I like them. I think people can actually be really clever with them and make conversations fun. I think they do help add meaning and context to text messages, kind of a visual hash tag if you will. I further think that emoticons show engagement and interest by the texter. When someone takes the time to send a text message that took them six seconds to send because they selected an emoticon as opposed to three seconds to send if they opted not to use one, it shows that there is a level of care and thought.
Yes, I do think there is the tendency for some people to go a little crazy with emoticons. Sometimes it is cool to see people tell stories with a string of 24 different pictures but if that is primarily how they communicate then chances are I don’t text them on a regular basis. I also think care needs to be taken on what emoticons you send someone, as sometimes people interpret them differently. For example, I was texting my friend the other day and she responded with the thumbs up emoticon. To me the thumbs up image came across as sarcastic. Even though I knew I was reading too deep into it and she even assured me that there was no sarcasm intended at all, it became clear to me that emoticons can send mixed signals.
Personally, I am a moderate emoticon user. I throw in an emoticon every now and then to my friends but I don’t by any means rely on them. I am a fan of using the weirdest, funniest looking ones to randomly insert into conversations.
Emoticons will continue to hold prominent spots in texting conversations. The available database will no doubt just get bigger and bigger as time rolls on and companies keep introducing new sets. The opportunities to spice up conversations will continue to grow, something that I think is a great thing. I embrace emoticons for use in the casual text message but I am with all the academics out there…don’t ever think about inserting one into something that you are going to turn in. Don’t Blink.