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Thursday, September 30, 2010

Emoticons: Are They Necessary or Stupid?

Posted By on Thu, Sep 30, 2010 at 8:56 AM


I got into a spat recently with a friend over my use of emoticons in texts and emails. My thinking is that there's no nuance when communicating that way, and I want to make sure that my sarcasm/flirtation/dismay etc. comes across. She says it makes me seem childish. Who's right?


I do love a good spat, especially when it involves ({*}), which yours does not at all, but I also love any excuse to spread an emoticon vagina to the masses. For those not ITK, which stands for "in the know" (Not really, I'm just being an asshole), an emoticon is a graphic representation of an emotion or a facial expression, though occasionally you might come across emoticons that convey random ridiculous things, like robots playing football or stick figures getting flogged, which was, coincidentally, quite handy for my last Abstinence Instruction for Toddlers seminar.

Emoticons have actually been around since 1982, when the only video game we had involved covered wagons and dysentery and where our soda had actual calories. Those were dark times indeed. Thank god we can now simulate a pile of poop with swarming flies in our instant messaging!
There are a few situations where emoticons should never be used, such as in any professional context, e.g. resumes, job applications, cover letters, etc. There is a little bit of leeway involving work emails with coworkers, but it depends on the casualness of your office and/or clientele. The general rule of thumb to gauge emoticon appropriateness in texts or online is to mirror those you're communicating with. If you're g-chatting Tyra Banks, for instance, then by all means, type in all <3s and uppercase J's. That's how I got my guest stint as "Wind Machine Holder #3" on "America's Next Top Model."

In terms of more casual interactions, I took an informal poll because I am biased on the subject (my great-grandfather invented this emoticon <:3)~, which is either a mouse or Steve Buscemi. I can't quite remember). The consensus was to use emoticons sparingly, less so in emails, and never with those who are in positions of authority, such as school marms or your boss. You are allowed smiley/frowny faces to convey humor or sympathy, especially dry humor that could easily be misconstrued. 

As one friend on Team Emoticon put it, "Communication is 90% nonverbal, so when conversations are distilled to texts, it's impossible to pick up on tone and body language, and thus easier to read your own assumptions into the text." And because unless a guy includes three smiley faces in an email to me, I'm like, OMIGOD WHY DOES HE HATE ME? WHY AM I SO ANNOYING???" Which is when our chat window closed suddenly.

You are also allowed to wink ;) to convey innuendo or mild flirtatiousness, but please, when propositioning someone, use actual words. Even booty calls deserve more than this: 8====D~~~~~* (_*_)?

Social-media mistress Anna Pulley likes to give advice about how to play well with others on the internets. If you have a question about etiquette involving technology, shoot her a question at

Follow us on Twitter: @annapulley or @SFWeekly 

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Anna Pulley


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