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.