Letters of Life

The Smiley: Love It or Loathe It

Recently, I spent a virtual day chatting with different folks online, in that illusory timeless zone called cyber, where talk is text and the smiley is the full-stop to ease (unseen) tensions.There was at least one smiley on every line of text dialogue, except when it came my turn to reply.

The smiley. What a nuisance. I mean, how *did* we get by without the smiley? Were we any less witty, fun, cheerful? Did we get into more arguments because we didn’t end our retorts with a πŸ™‚ or :D?

The smiley started off innocently as a groovy graphic icon in the 1970’s.The graphic was popularized, says Wikipedia, in the early 1970s by Philadelphia brothers Bernard and Murray Spain, who used it in a campaign to sell novelty items. The two produced buttons as well as coffee mugs, t-shirts, bumper stickers and many other items emblazoned with the symbol and the phrase “Have a happy day” which mutated into “Have a nice day”. Some 50 million happy face badges were produced by 1972.In the decades that followed, the smiley enjoyed limited popularity as a nostalgic silkscreen graphic on t-shirts.

Scintillating conversation

Then with the advent of the Internet, people discovered that it did a lot of things in forums and online discussions. It not only made the user appear friendly onscreen, it had the added bonus of being a neutralizer. Add it at the end of a potentially controversial statement, a potentially argumentative train of thought, and suddenly, everything looks–normal.

E.g. “Your argument is a little convoluted in Chapter Three. Also, I think you might have plagiarized Plato a little. πŸ˜€ ”

“Which part of my discussion did you find confusing? πŸ™‚ By the way, your blog sucks. πŸ™‚ “

The smiley normalized as it neutralized. So it flooded into our informal e-mail, text messages, status updates, comments, and virtual chats as an indispensable bit of punctuation. Even then, it isn’t a *real* smiley, it’s tilted on its side thus : )

Then the social network engineers included it as an auto-emoticon and it is enjoying virtual immortality as a bona fide smiley again. The smiley now has 30 different expressions available on the smartphone so you don’t ever have to text a word.

So how was life pre-smiley? This is a lot like asking what life was like before Google, before Wikipedia, before Youtube.

Like a cook who knew the adverse effects of sprinkling too much sodium in one’s cooking, I shied away from liberal use of the smiley. I had words and punctuation. Why did I need the smiley? Couldn’t people read my text or e-mail and not get offended?

So the smiley smiles on your behalf; it’s your virtual smile. And it’s everybody else’s too. A generic smile to buffer awkwardness; use it at your expense, for it serves to level off any kind of nuance or expression other than that of the smiley. What you see is what you get (WYSWYG).

I’ve since been resigned to using it, though not as much as other people in my network. I must say the 29 other variations are quite cute, even the poopy one. πŸ˜€

5 Responses »

  1. I like the new layout – its much more readable.

  2. The alternative was to use expressions like *grin* *frown* *wink* and so on. Every culture has meaningless terms used to nuance language (think of the ‘meh’, ‘leh’, ‘lah’ and such of the neo-indigenous here). πŸ˜€


  1. A smiley a day keeps Grumpy away « maloquacious

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