Emoticon Creep

Recently I received an email at work from outside the office that had an emoticon at the end of it — I think it was the ever-present winker — and I groaned inwardly.  Is nothing sacred?  Is there no place that can’t be invaded by the emoticon wave?

I admit that it’s odd to think of the workplace emailbox as sacred ground, but you’ve got to draw the line somewhere.  I am not a big fan of emoticons, because I think they tend to trivialize and infantilize our communications.  There is a time and a place to be slouchy and casual, and a time and place to be more formal and serious.  In my book, the workplace should fall into the latter category, and work-related communications should reflect that reality.  The office is where people are supposed to go to work, not exchange winks.

I admit, too, that I often don’t know precisely what emoticons are supposed to mean.  Does a person put the smiler emoticon at the end of a message to make sure that you know that their message is supposed to be funny?  Is it now universally accepted that you can write something harsh but use the winker emoticon as a tag line, and everyone is supposed to understand it’s all just a joke and take no offense?  Is the emoticon supposed to substitute for the facial expression the email writer would be making if we were sitting across from each other?  If so, how am I supposed to take the stupid face-with-tongue-out emoticon?

I get the sense that we’re in a period of severe emoticon creep, so now is the time for those of us who want to maintain the office as an emoticonless sanctuary to pay special attention.  Eternal vigilance is the price of winker-free communications.

Expressions And Emoticons

Here’s an interesting story on a study that suggests that different cultures may read facial expressions differently, in a way that could lead to misunderstandings.

The study indicates that facial expressions indicating fear and surprise are among those most likely to be misunderstood. East Asian participants were much more likely to focus on the eyes, which are much more likely to be ambiguous, whereas Western participants looked at the entire face.

The study made me wonder how the participants would match the politicans pictured with this post with the following mental or emotional states:

*Disgruntled

* Uncomfortable

*Bewildered

* Slap happy

The eyes have it!

Another interesting aspect of the article is the difference in “emoticons” between those used in the U.S. and those used in Asia, with those used in Asia right-side up rather than on their side and with much more attention given to the eyes. I’ve never used an emoticon, but if I did I think I would use the Asian versions.