Emoticons. Some people love them. Others find them irritating. I’m in the latter camp. That’s why I enjoyed a comic in the paper this week.* A fifty-something husband and wife are talking as she’s typing on her desktop.
Jeannie: I wish I was a little more computer-literate.
Charlie: I don’t really care for that term.
Jeannie: Why not?
Charlie: I don’t like ascribing literacy to people who think emoticons are a part of speech.
I am forced to respond with a wholehearted “ditto!”
I find the evolution of alphabets fascinating. Primitive pictographs amaze me. Emoticons, not so much.
I have to admit that I occasionally use the primitive :) to indicate that something is intended to be humorous, rather than serious. It has served as useful shorthand for written speech, conveying what would be evident in the intonations of oral communication.
However, this nouveau-punctuation has mutated into an abomination. Today there are innumerable graphic variations of that once modest “smile.” And some of them are truly bizarre.
Emoticons run amuck are an evidence of humanity’s demand for novelty. In The Screwtape Letters, C.S. Lewis shows how an incessant demand for something new saps the joy out of the present moment. As the senior demonic tempter declares:
Now just as we pick out and exaggerate the pleasure of eating to produce gluttony, so we pick out this natural pleasantness of change and twist it into a demand for absolute novelty. This demand is entirely our workmanship. If we neglect our duty, men will be not only contented but transported by the mixed novelty and familiarity of snowdrops this January, sunrise this morning, plum pudding this Christmas. . . . Only by our incessant efforts is the demand for infinite, or unrhythmical, change kept up. This demand is valuable in various ways. In the first place it diminishes pleasure while increasing desire.
I realize it’s a bit of a stretch to apply this passage to the subject at hand, but the principle remains the same. When is enough enough? When it comes to emoticons, apparently, that level has yet to be reached.
I am not seriously suggesting that there is a conspiracy going on here, but one never knows.
Please forgive me if I have offended any Mere Inkling readers who may suffer from emoticonaddiction or some other disorder. It is not my desire to upset you. Feel free to continue your unbridled (ab)use of these tiny monstrosities.
Simply include me (and C.S. Lewis) alongside Charlie in saying, “I don’t like ascribing literacy to people who think emoticons are a part of speech.”
Postscript: I must confess to finding one set of emoticons rather amusing. If you are familiar with Spock from Star Trek, you too may enjoy these Vulcan emoticons that exhibit the full range of Vulcan expression.
* You can see the strip I am referring to here.