Are you :) or :( today?

Sep 19, 2012, 08:21 IST | Ruchika Kher

For purists, it heralds the death of language, for others, it's a tool to add colour to communication. Whatever be your take, it's an accepted fact that the phenomenon of the emoticon is here to stay. On its 30th anniversary, The Guide spoke to a cross-section of people across the socio-economic and cultural landscape, to gauge its popularity

The story of emoticons, facial expressions created using punctuation marks and letters, usually to express a person’s mood in a written message, can be traced back to September 19, 1982 when in Pittsburg, Professor Scott Fahlman, sent an email on an online electronic bulletin board that included the first use of the sideways smiley face. Since then there has been no looking back.

Today, after three decades, emoticons have evolved to much more than just a sideways smiley face. The emoticon has become an integral part of daily communication all over the world. Adding a personal touch to textual interactions, emoticons add an expression and help in determining the tone of a statement.

“Emoticons have made a mark on short text communication formats. These are typically informal in tone, even if exchanged in professional settings. While one might find emoticons jarring in the context of pure unbridled literature, they are definitely a huge asset to people with communication problems or excessively bashful communicators,” says Reeta D Gupta, Media and Communication Consultant.

Not just individual conversations, emoticons have made their presence felt in different media as well. Merchandise depicting faces is not something unheard of and advertising too uses it to add character to the advertisement or give it a casual undertone.

Plug that smiley
According to Narayan Devanathan, National Planning Head, Dentsu Marcom, use of emoticons in the advertising space is rampant, but it’s important to recognise the context and need of the ad before plugging a smiley in. “It is essential to consider a bunch of factors before using an emoticon. A formal, corporate brand would probably not want to use emoticons to talk to its shareholders or to the investment community. But in an ad that features youth engaged in a conversation and song-and-dance about their lives, emoticons are very much ‘in place’ and signal a brand’s being ‘with it’,” he elaborates.

Wear your attitude
As far as products using the icons are considered, emoticons enjoy high popularity and demand. An increasing number of brands indulge in using the graphic faces to make their products interesting, whether it’s for T-shirts, mugs, notepads or for other items of  daily use. “People use fashion and clothes as a form of expression these days. They see a ‘cool biker’ themed tee and if it relates to their personality, they pick it. Similar is the case with emoticons.

These tees are representative of the wearer’s personality”, informs Gautam Thoidingjam, Art Director with Inkfruit, known for their fun, quirky
tees. “Emoticons make our life quite easy. Some of the emoticons these days are quite fun and quirky. They add life to a normal boring conversation; it’s an instant remedy to uplift your mood. Hence it’s always good if you have them on a product close to your heart,” he adds. However, at the corporate level, one needs to be very careful before using these graphic facial expressions in mails and text messages.

Figure it right
“Professional set-ups demand deference to authority, cooperation with colleagues and guidance to juniors. The culture of the specific organisation interprets all three equations in its own way. Though it is highly unlikely that emoticons would be encouraged en masse at all levels, the occasional encouragement to a junior with a smiley cannot be ruled out. Also, peers may be connected otherwise through other social media that freely encourages the use of emoticons. So, there is a context where the use of emoticons is acceptable and a context where it is not,” reveals Gupta.

Echoing a similar stance, Anita Shantaram, a corporate trainer, throws more light on this scenario, and states the fact that extra care is advisable while using an emoticon in the professional set up, since a wrong emoticon is capable of creating perceptions which can be harmful for one’s image. “Using a wrong emoticon is a problem. Sometimes, using a wrong emoticon, even by mistake, can be detrimental as a wrong perception can be created as a result of its use. Then, that situation requires a lot of answering. So it’s better to avoid it and deal in neat clean text messages,” she suggests.

However, Devanathan strongly believes that no matter what anyone says, the pros and cons of using an emoticon in conversation only result out of one thing — the person one is speaking to, at the other end. “Purists will tell you that emoticons are definite harbingers of doomsday. The internet and mobile generation will probably say, “:-P”, and feel like they have conveyed their message,  effectively,” he reiterates. Still smiling, we hope. 

Evolution of the Emoticon


The craze started with basic emoticons that were made using letters and signs


Emoticons have evolved and represent much more than a humble smile 

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