THE BLOG

Emoticons: Emotional Communication or Evil Tool?

08/01/2013 03:35 pm ET | Updated Oct 01, 2013

The use of technology in communication nowadays is the standard by which we connect with one another. Email, texting, and online chatting have become the default method to talk to another human being. When email first saw use, it was black & white, sterile, and to the point. Now with the use of emoticons -- those little cartoonish images of smiley faces and frowning yellow spheres -- we are finding ways of integrating emotions into our words. But like any technology, these little icons can have a down side to them. Like any tool, emoticons can be used for good, or for evil purposes.

I first saw the use of the emoticon in what is arguably the "standard" -- the colon with right parenthesis which is understood as a smiley face : ) But soon after, other forms of emoticons were being invented. Frowns, giggles, laughs, anger, disgust, and even ignorance were transformed into pictorial form to help bolster the written word with thought and feeling. It was a cool way to make an email "personal", and it caught on like wildfire. Soon, online sites began offering actual cartoon-like and even animated emoticons, to liven up email and chat sessions. The emoticon had matured into a marketable widget, and even a corporate tool of communication.

But then a darker side emerged.

People realized that these emoticons could be used to evoke a false sense of emotion. If someone were pissed off for some reason, they could send an email with an ambiguously nasty tone, tempered by a "cute smiley face" at the end. This somehow diffused the nature of the email, as if to guarantee that no harm or retribution would ensue. People were using emoticons, the same way that Dick Chaney used the word "sorry" to a guy whom he had just shot in the face with a shotgun... Oops.

Apology NOT accepted.

People also realized that they could amplify the effect of a message using an emoticon. An angry note to someone could be set on fire by the use of "angry face emoticons" and exclamation points, which could evoke a sense of disgust along with a message of "I think you're a worthless a**hole!"... This -- all from a simple little icon.

Emoticons were invented to be our friendly connection through email and text. Think rainbows and unicorns. Don't allow yourself to fall into the habit of using these neat little guys as an extent of bad behavior. They were never designed to be weapons of mass communication.