Smilies Help Us Communicate Clearly Online

By: Craig Thornburrow

Smilies are those adorable little smiling icons we see so often online.? You see them on forums and message boards, in blog posts, and especially in e-mails.? And while you might think that Smilies are cute.? It is also important to understand that these kinds of icons -- also called "emoticons" -- serve a necessary purpose in online communication.

Emoticons like the smiley were originally invented to fix a problem that occurred when communicating online.? It seems that in the early days of e-mail communication, people had no way of indicating the emotion behind a statement, and this sometimes caused misunderstandings or even hard feelings.

For example, if someone e-mails you and says "I know how great you are at math," this could mean one of several things.? It could indicate that the person actually considers you to be great at math.? This would be a literal interpretation of the text.? But the person could also intend this comment in an ironic or sarcastic way, so that it could actually mean the exact opposite of what it literally says.

This is just one simple example of the many ways that e-mail communication can become confusing when the tone behind the words is not understood.? And it is because of these types of misunderstandings that emoticons were first invented.

The idea behind Smilies and other emoticons is simply to help the user understand the emotion behind the words.? The Smiley was the first emoticon used, but soon others began to appear, to express different emotions.? Today, there are dozens of different emoticons, that all express a specific emotion or tone.

And although sometimes all emoticons are called Smilies as a type of generic term, they do not all indicate the same emotions.? There are emoticons to represent sadness, anger, ecstatic happiness, playfulness, sarcasm, excitement, lust, hunger, tiredness, boredom, embarrassment, confusion, frustration, silliness, sympathy, curiosity and many other possible states of mind.

So even though emoticons seem like a simple and even silly addition to an e-mail, the truth is, they serve a very real and necessary purpose in online communications.? In fact, emoticons have become so popular online, that they had even spread to mobile phones. They are now commonly used in text messages sent and received by cell phones, presumably, to clarify communication the same way they do in e-mails.

The first emoticons like the smiley were very simple, and usually only consisted of two or three characters on the keyboard.? But these days, 3-D emoticons are commonplace, and they seem to get more advanced and expressive all the time.? For example, there are now 3-D smiley emoticons to represent nearly any activity or state of mind you can imagine, like jumping rope, reading books, drinking champagne, mowing the lawn, showering, watching TV, and hundreds of others.

The beauty of using these cute little yellow characters is that they allow us to say a great deal about our state of mind and what we think, without necessarily having to type so much.?

Because of this, some people think that emoticons are making us lazy communicators.? But at the end of the day, it doesn't really matter if we type an exact description of what we are doing or thinking, or if we use an emoticon to represent it.? As long as our intended meaning is communicated when we use Smilies or emoticons, that's all that really matters.

Communications
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