Logic is Variable

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Emoticon impact

This article appeared in Spider.tm

The tiny winy sequences of type characters referred to as smileys or emoticons are universal among those who live on the web across cultures through out the cyber world. Sometimes amusing and at times meaningful, smileys are used in electronic communication to enrich the meaning of text based messages.

The idea of graphically depicting human emotions is not new. BBC claims that, “the original smiley was created in 1964 by commercial artist Harvey Ball.” Russian writer Vladimir Nobaokov who authored Lolita, answering a question in 1969 was quoted by Scott E. Fahlman as saying , “I often think there should exist a special typographichal sign for a smile- some sort of concave mark, a supine round bracket.”

“The emoticon or “smiley” being discussed is the first ASCII smiley,” reads Plato Emoticons, “like so many things, PLATO was doing emoticons and smileys, online and on screen years earlier. In fact, emoticons on PLATO were already an art form by 1976. PLATO users began doing smiley characters probably as early as 1972 (when PLATO IV came out), but possible even earlier of PLATO III.”

Consensus is that the original ASCII smiley {:- )} with which every one on the World Wide Web is so familiar came into existence with a note written by neural networks researcher Scott E. Fahlman of September 19, 1982 as a means of indicating a joke marker during a contentious online bulletin board discussion. The origin of this smiley has been meticulously searched by Mike Jones and Jeff Baird. It has led to the creation of many other facial expressions built with keyboard characters as well as invention of the term emoticon- a combination of words emotions and icons- to describe them all during the past over two decades. Web mail and instant messaging service providers like AOL, MSN and Yahoo! And some dedicated websites not only list the digital displays of these human emotions but also turn them into thematic imagery. Inclusion of emoticons in Web mail and chat windows by the three providers has done best of popularize them among millions of their subscribers all over the world.

Communication experts are of the opinion that when using text-based online messages, smileys provide for lack of the body language or tone of voice cues that convey meaning when talking face to face or on the telephone. They are innovative and add a splash of colour in the otherwise eerie uniformity of a sloppy prose.

Some critics, who are more conscious about preserving languages, shrink at the very idea of smileys, arguing that writers should have no need to explicitly put a label on their state of mind or heart. As was being done since the invention of the written word, writers should have no need to explicitly put a label on their state of mind or heart. As was being done since the invention of the written word, writers should be able to express themselves with words alone instead. But proliferating the use of smileys indicated that they have already been accepted as a mainstream phenomenon.

Smileys are being used in e-mails, chat rooms, bulltin boards, newsgroups, blogs or where ever human beings get together in digital form; it is no more possible to use the internet without encountering these curious creatures. They have started appearing on mobile phone screens as well. What is more, smileys come into view in students’ work, on class room blackboards and on different market items from bedspreads to mugs to mouse pads. Large size smileys are seen in cybercafés. They are also being used in letters written in long hand and sent by snail mail.

In the process, the undertone of smileys is evolving from just humouous to more expressive. Which is why besides enthusiastic youngsters, academicians, editors and professionals are using smileys fro greater creativity and expression?

The internet is visibly changing the traditional frontiers of human communication. Zaheer Hassan, a recently laid off knowledge worker, still hangs around in America, armed with excellent interpersonal skills. He is heavily dependent on e-mail in work and he pithily makes use of smileys. “Emotions have become an important part of the online culture,” he says, “They make it easy and quick to communicate emotions- something that many people find difficult to express using words- particularly when dealing with people from diverse social and educational backgrounds.”

Mary, a busy IT analyst and writer from Canada e-mailed in response to a query, “It is true that e-mails do not accurately capture our feelings. How could they? Most are written quickly, with little regard for nouns or are just official communication. I recall an incident at work when a young lady caused a lot of aggravation to a co-worker due to her (perceived) abrasive style. Confronted by the manager, she was at a loss and started crying, she simply was not good with written communication. Emoticons may help somewhat. I personally do not use them; I rely on my words to do the whole job. I think a lot also depends on who the recipient is, style or the rapport of the sender with other person. If the two correspondents do not know each other’s style, mishap can occur. Emoticons introduce a note of informality… I can hardly imagine an e-mail from our corporate heads bearing emoticons. It is suitable for peer to peer communication.”

“Emoticons may seem silly, but they fulfill an important function. Though emoticons cannot replace the full range of non-verbal communication,” e-mailed Maria Iqbal, “they can go a long way towards changing the mood of written statement, and the : -) or the (acronym that I think looks like smileys) can make it clear that you mean something in a light hearted manner, just as a reassuring smile or laugh might if you were speaking. So while I personally do not use a wide range of emoticons, or use them very often, I believe they are important tools for online communication.” Nan McCarthy, an expert in online relationship and author of three famous books (“chat”, “connect”, and “crash”) writes, “The primary purpose of emoticons in e-mail and live chats is to minimize misunderstandings, especially when a joke could be misconstrued as a serious statement and therefore hurt the recipient’s feelings. Hence, the frequent use of smiley faces, however, emoticons should not be overused or take the place of good writing and clear communication, even in live chats.”

Shahid Salahud Din, a programmer who spends most of his working time on computer, says “The last thing I want to do is writing more than what is absolutely necessary. So I use these typographical smileys that are computer equivalent of handmade drawings advantageously whenever I can. The problem is that smileys are yet not standard. There are so many different dictionaries each defining them differently dictionaries each defining them differently. Many have to be explained every time they are used even while communicating within IT professionals’ community.”

“I have gone past the age of sitting by a computer connected to the internet and waiting for an e mail or my chat buddies to appear online. I use computer as a useful working device. It has made my life easier as I ma more informed, accessible, and connected. I do not remember using smileys myself but I am familiar with them. I come across them every now and then mostly in mails from my contacts abroad. This is how I find out new emoticons if I cannot make sense out of them,” says Shamim Asghar, an advocate who is running his consultancy service for education abroad.

No one needs to sell to the young ones on the benefits of the internet these days. Traditionally, youth is the fraternity that has dominated the use of smileys here and elsewhere. For them smileys sometimes go beyond conveying feelings, cultural fusion or fun. Young e-mail and instant messaging enthusiasts normally remember the keystrokes for so many smileys by heart or keep a rich collection on their computers. But what is more, “rather than reading these sequences sideways they read in between and usually give deeper meaning to emoticons,” says Khalid Ahmed, a member faculty University of the Punjab.

Shahbaz Afzal is an IT undergraduate and a proud owner of a powerful machine. He keenly uses smileys in chat sessions and so many mails he exchanged with his friends and father in Dubai. “I have collected smileys from different sites, most of which sit in my favorite cache. I have also given print outs to my father and friends fro reference. They are all familiar with them” he says.

Like most people in this part of the world, I adopted this internet-ism and started using the pictographs of different facial expressions some time ago. I fine myself surfing different directories in an effort to know them all so that I am not caught “not knowing”. More and more icons are coming up every day. And, what some of my friends send me in their electronic messages sonly set me wondering where I stand with them?

It is safe to assume that new techniques of online communications will continue to evolve; smileys are one attempt at finding new ways for a new medium. Aptly and moderately used, these cute little sideway faces many are using on the internet can hit the mark perfectly or help clarify when one is being quirky or ironic or whimsical or miffed or emotional. Try them.

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posted by S A J Shirazi @ 12:22 PM,


At 10:42:00 AM, Blogger KylieP2 said...

I have to be so frank here Shirazi; the youth, Gen y are so over all the 'script' and are really high in visual acuity and abstract reasoning. Therefore much of the information on blogs and the web in general is left untouched, unread, and generally ignored.
The youth want visual stimulation and if you could say the same thing through a video you would attract more viewings. They want to be entertained, amused, and feel good; and that is why emoticons work; they say a lot for a little....

At 12:26:00 PM, Blogger Shirazi said...

Thanks Kylie Prince. Thanks for your informed opinion. Look forward to seeing you here again.

No body minds apt and moderate used of these cute little symbols. One worries that youth may not forget the use of erudite language over time.

At 12:59:00 PM, Anonymous yousuf said...

i think motion impact on our life is to good its make our chat funky


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