Why I hate emojis and emoticons

Smiley faces are not for grown-ups

Back in the early days of the Internetwork, the nerdy IT people would send emails to me with little symbols like this : – ) to show that they were being funny, ironic, cool. Gosh I hated it. When someone sent me an email with a smiley face my assessment of their professionalism would plummet. Drawing smiley faces was what kindergarten teachers did to show approval of you being able to spell your name correctly for the first time. They are not what public servants did on high salaries to cover up their passive aggressiveness.

Winking at colleagues is not professional

Getting little winks ; ) from people that would never wink at anyone in real life, let alone make eye contact, just infuriated me. It was novel the first time but tedious after being repeated in email dialogues. I felt like heading over to their cubicle and winking at them from nearby. It was an affront to language as far as I was concerned—the nerds taking control.

I was not alone back in the 1990s. There were definitely two groups of people: those that used these little codes and those that didn’t. Those that didn’t were urbane, socially competent and in tune with the zeitgeist; and those that did, were at the opposite end of the spectrum.

Meaning of emoticons

These little coagulations of punctuation marks were called emoticons because they were icons that represented emotions, that is, an emote-icon (very clever). They were used by people who thought they needed to express their emotions in a business email (although I have already made that point).

Invention of emoticons

The midwife of the emoticon has been identified as Professor Scott Fahlman, an academic at a university in Pittsburgh in 1982, who sent an email on an online electronic bulletin board that included the first use of the sideways smiley face: “I propose the following character sequence for joke markers: : – ) Read it sideways.” Well thank you very much, Professor.

Meaning of emoji

If the world had been sensible emoticons would have been used for a few years, become completely uncool and then appear intermittently like yo-yos to excite a new generation for a short, unfashionable period. However something much worse happened!

Someone invented emojis!

The person attributed with creating the emoji is Shigetaka Kurita, an employee of Japanese telecommunications company, NTT DoCoMo. Kurita believed that Japanese people had a hard time getting used to the new methods of communication in the 1990s: pager messages, texts and emails. In Japan personal letters are long, full of greetings and honorific expressions that demonstrate goodwill. The Japanese (in Kurita’s view) couldn’t cope with the short, raw language of emails that lead to a breakdown in intimate communication. He stated:

If someone says Wakarimashita you don’t know whether it’s a kind of warm, soft ‘I understand’ or a ‘yeah, I get it’ kind of cool, negative feeling. You don’t know what’s in the writer’s head.

Kurita created the first emojis and the Japanese telecommunications industry embraced the idea. However it did not spread to the world until Apple created a compatible set for the iPhone (not forgivable Apple).

The word emoji is the Japanese equivalent of pictograph and comes from Japanese e (絵, picture) and moji (文字, character).

Emojis are even less cool than emoticons

So now we are inundated with these little abominations all over the Internet in messaging apps and I despair for the future generations. But, thankfully, I don’t get them in emails any more because, quite frankly, at least some of us know that they are still very, very uncool.