A while back, the New York Times turned an investigative eye towards the emoticon phenomenon. Now more than ever, it seems, these little faces representing the range of human emotional experience from happy to sad and everywhere in between, have been popping up everywhere.
The article explores the variety of situations in which emoticons have been known to be utlized: as signifiers of jokes or special relationships between sender and receiver, as additions of levity to what can otherwise be construed as mean-spirited sarcasm, or, as a lecturer at Northeastern puts it, a symptom of “the degradation of writing skills — grammar, syntax, sentence structure, even penmanship — that come with digital technology.”
There have certainly been many times where I’ve felt that an emoticon contributed something to a conversation that words alone couldn’t accomplish, but it’s a bit unsettling to think what I’m really doing is sacrificing linguistic creativity for the sake of getting my point across quickly.
Still, I think people like Maria McErlane, who declares in the article that anyone who sends her a smiley face deeply offends her, take it a bit too far (especially since she used the phrase “de-friend,” in relation to her Facebook contacts, in the same sentence). What do you think: Are you a fan of emoticons? Would you ever use one in an email to a professor? Has a professor ever sent one to you? Me, I’m not so convinced that emoticons are the beginning of the end. As long as they stay away from formal writing, how much harm can they really do? 😉