Friday, 10 October 2014

Thoughts on Emoticons

Circa 1880s
Let's hear it for the 'melancholy' emoticon!

This might come to the surprise of the reader (unless you're one of the poor unfortunates who I call a 'friend'), giving the generally pessimistic spirit of this blog, but I am actually very fond of emoticons. I'd never dare use them on here (I'm not hbd chick), simply as a matter of aesthetic taste. I like this to look a little 'proper,' but that's just me. I do, however, make consistent use of them in texts, FB messages and so forth, because, ultimately, they're very good at doing what they set out to do. Namely, convey emotions in script.

Of course, the modern emoticon (I am thinking of FB messenger here) is more than a mere construction of appropriated punctuation, it instead has been abstracted out further into becoming simple images and glyphs. The happy face, the sad face, the winking face, the out-sticked tongue, and so on. Now, I'm one of those wreckers of civilisation who is more likely to have a conversation with a friend online than in person, and the obvious problem of the absence of body language and facial expressions is a major factor in all forms of non-personal communication, but especially in the rolling conversations that we have online these days. This is not, I feel, as much a problem with the dying art of letter writing, as this act typically demands greater attention from the writer, over a longer period of time. As such, the writer is, perhaps, more likely to ensure that they are doing all they can to convey the normally unspoken emotional nuances of communication in a deliberate, written form, for the intended interpretation of the recipient. 

But one cannot do that on Facebook! Typically, in conversation with someone online, it is not dissimilar to a spoken conversation in that it is free-flowing, the words and sentences forming themselves without much conscious volition on my part. The problem therein is the lack of any of the cues that we normally receive from body language, from the face. The emoticon steps in here. 

What I find interesting here is the desire to humanise the otherwise faceless nature of online communication, by including these odd little stand-ins for real human presence. One might say that it is suggestive of the essential poverty of the online conversation, but I feel differently. It, instead, is a reinforcement of the importance of the face-to-face in human relationships, in that we have added this peculiar little construct to this new medium of conversation. It adds a dimension of authenticity to the words pouring out of the screen. Curious that's called 'Facebook,' isn't it?

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