Monday, August 17, 2009

If You're Happy And You Know It, type a :-) !

You may have encountered odd character sequences like :-) in e-mail messages, newsgroup posts, or online forums. Here's some information about what they are, what they mean, and why some people think they're a good or bad idea. One of the problems with online communication is the lack of facial expressions or body language which, in face to face communications, often reveals just as much information as the actual words said. It can be hard to tell in an electronic message whether the writer is serious, kidding around, being facetious or ironic, having fun, or getting angry. Serious misunderstandings can result from this, sometimes kicking off one of the notorious Internet Flame Wars. (It happens that I was a freshman at GAU at that time, but I was unaware of the smiley ... I was off on the STUDENT computers being a clueless newbie [yes, I did go through that phase, though it was over 10 years ago!] while the message thread that introduced this device was on the research-oriented Computer Scieis communicationnce systems.) The original emoticons were :-) and :-( . To understand what they mean, rotate your monitor 90 degrees to the right, or your head 90 degrees to the left, and you'll see that they look like very crude renditions of somebody smiling (in the first one) or frowning (in the second one), with the ":" representing the eyes, the "-" the nose, and the parentheses the mouth. Emoticons are sometimes referred to as "smileys", though this name more properly refers only to the ones that include a smiling face. The usage is that a writer will insert :-) to indicate "I'm really just kidding around a little... don't take this too seriously", or :-( to say "I'm getting peeved about this". A number of other emoticons have developed, but they're not as commonly used or as well understood. (See links below for some tables of them.) Noseless variants of the two original emoticons, :) and :( , can be seen sometimes, as well as versions depicting somebody wearing glasses , B-) and B-( .
Pros and Cons of; Emoticons; There are some who really like emoticons, and some who really hate them. This division doesn't cut cleanly between geeks and non-geeks; although the stereotype is that these are "geeky" things, some old-time computer buffs think emoticons are silly and pointless, while some "newbies" take to them enthusiastically when they discover them.
Supporters say that they provide useful "punctuation" to indicate emotional content which can be unclear from the words alone. Some see them as an opportunity to show personality and creativity, sometimes going to great lengths to come up with exotic emoticons like :-)~~(-: (a French kiss). Others stick to a few tried-and-true emoticons that are widely understood, thinking that they deserve to be considered legitimate punctuation (making them probably the first new punctuation marks added to the English language in centuries). On the other hand, opponents find them to be annoying and say that there would be no need for them if writers expressed themselves better in the first place. Written language has managed to serve the function of communication for millennia despite its lack of facial expression and body language; the writer just needs to take care to make his or her emotional state apparent if this is relevant to the message. "That's funny!" or "That's not funny." gives a clearer indication of what the writer feels than any smiley or frowney. Computer geeks should learn to write English, not the bizarre geekspeak that's hard for "normal" people to follow. Anyway, emoticons give some online forum participants "license" to say hurtful, insensitive things and then "make it OK" by ending them with a smiley, like it's all a cute joke. Is this really such a good thing to encourage? As in most cases, the truth lies somewhere in the middle. Emoticons can certainly be abused or overused, just like older and more traditional forms of punctuation such as the exclamation point. If you find yourself sticking one in every paragraph of your online writing, you're using them way too much. If you use one in every message, you're probably using them too much. However, when used sparingly in appropriate places, a smiley or frowney can add feeling to a message, and make misunderstandings less likely in situations where people aren't sure whether you're serious or not. I use them once in a while myself. But you should probably avoid the more exotic and bizarre emoticons unless the purpose of your messages is to show off your creativity in ASCII art; stick to the familiar smiley and frowney in normal cases where the aim is communication

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