Emotipro & Con

emoticon diiscussionSpike & I recently had a heated debate regarding the appropriateness of emoticons in the workplace. What follows is our point: counterpoint. We invite you to grace us with your thoughts in the comments.

VeeDub: Emoticons exist for a very good reason ” people are sensitive. Sometimes, given the chance to read a few lines in a sincere or sarcastic manner, the reader will jump to the worst interpretation possible no matter how well they know the author. Please imagine the below examples of a closing to an informal internal email:

Option 1: “Now, get to work already!”

Option 2: “Now, get to work already! ;-)”

While both use the same words, it is clear that I am only half serious in the latter. The emoticon can be employed as passive aggressive shorthand. The sentence with the emoticon communicates ‘I am not upset with you, and we certainly don’t need to have a talk about our feelings, but you need to get down to business, OK?’ without having to get that explicit.

Emoticons have a rich history dating back to 1857 and a morse code telegraph operator manual stating that the number ’73’ could be employed to express love and kisses (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Emoticons). There was a need then with the telegraph, and it is even greater in today’s fragmented communication landscape with its explosion of misinterpretation opportunities. Sadly, TXT isn’t much further along than the 1857 telegraph in its ability to communicate emotion.

In short, emoticons are necessary. You may find them a necessary evil, but that makes them no less necessary.

SpikeEmoticons are the devil.

Okay, maybe not. But come on. When those semicolons and parentheses and whatever else show up in an otherwise intelligent email or other electronic conversation, it dumbs down the entire exchange. You might as well write LOL or ROTFLMFAO or some crap like that. When did we get to a place where we need to use symbols to express emotions? Are you really that bad and/or lazy of a writer? I don’t recall seeing any of those nasty little things in any of my English or Journalism classes back in the day at Baylor. Do you think Hemingway would’ve used them? I kinda doubt it.

I’m not saying that people who use emoticons are dumb. I’m sayin’ that emoticons are dumb. I’m not a teenager. So don’t write to me like I’m one. They aren’t necessary ” especially when it comes to written exchanges. Words are. So use words.

Pretty please.

  • http://www.brainsonfire.com Mr. Steve

    Now, I agree that emoticons are kinda dumb…if I feel my statement is going to be misread, I simply rewrite it. BUT, I think textspeak is far more of an evil than emoticons. I still teach some theatre on the side, and you’d be amazed how many kids use “LOL” as a word…just ponder that irony for a little bit.
    I agree with Spike that we are losing our love of words and language, but I consider emoticons more like using wallpaper instead of painting the walls and hanging some nice pictures. It’s not necessarily easier…but you are using a predetermined palate to decorate your space.

    Now…get back to work already!

  • http://www.weirdotoys.com Justin

    I used to hate emoticons, but it wasn’t until my “to-the-point” writing style was constantly misinterpreted that i converted to using them.

    I used to feel the same way you do spike. Emoticons seemed very “cutesy-poo” and they dumbed down the message. Now I use them without even realizing it.

    And Steve, it kills me that those kids are actually speaking “el-oh-el.” That’s more difficult than simply laughing. Sheesh.

  • http://hershoeaddiction.blogspot.com erika-nicole

    hi! found you in the state paper listing. i do use those little creatures mostly because everyone else uses them. i say lets boycott emoticons!

  • http://thebrandbuilder.blogspot.com olivier Blanchard

    I hate emoticons too. They are indeed the devil and do dumb down perfectly good emails. I completely agree.


    …VeeDub is right: “Given the chance to read a few lines in a sincere or sarcastic manner, the reader will jump to the worst interpretation possible no matter how well they know the author.”

    I am blown away by how easily people get offended by completely benign emails. Thin skin and a general lack of contextual reading skills make emails (and blog posts) easily misinterpreted. I started using them at work out of necessity. (It is a lot easier to type a couple of punctuation marks at the end of a paragraph in order to set the tone than it is to spend the next three hours explaining to the person you accidentally offended that they need to learn how to read and get a life.)

    Unfortunately, emails don’t convey the tone or emotional context of a sentence the way a human voice does. Emoticons are poor substitutes for all of the missing verbal and facial cues we have spent millennia developing, but they’re the best thing we have at this point.

    Maybe it’s email that’s the devil. Emoticons are just the devil’s little helpers.

  • http://www.mikegowan.com Mike Gowan

    You people are snobs.

    I am smiling, winking, and hoping you do not hate me now.

  • http://brainsonfire.com/ Virginia

    :-P We get your drift, Mike.

    I also wanted to edit in a sassy comment about Spike, proud owner of an eyebrow ring, not wanting to be written to like a teenager, but I thought it might be misinterpreted without the smiley.

  • http://www.mergeweb.com/blog Adam Landrum

    I’ll play the politician and say that neither viewpoint is wrong–yeah, they aren’t so professional, but do they play a purpose?

    Crafting an email so it connotes the emotion as well as the actual context of the message is fine and dandy using just words, but for some (like myself), it can take some serious time editing such a quick note.

    Slapping an emoticon, as per the example: “Now, get to work already! ;-)” is better than:

    “Now, get to work already! I mean, you’ve been doing great and I really appreciate your effort–so really I’m just kidding–but we do have some deadlines we need to hit.”

    Just throw a wink in there and you’re all good–and you just saved 5 minutes of painfully editing a simple message.

  • http://www.catchyourlimit.com Kyle

    I’ve never used them in e-mails. But I use them quite frequently on blog comments and message boards when other readers might not be familiar with me. I have an ellipses addiction right now. I might need to seek some counseling.

  • http://brainsonfire.com Spike

    VeeDub, it’s more of an eyebrow piercing than an eyebrow ring, and you’re obsessed with it.

    I’m getting three more tomorrow.

  • http://www.ivey-mccoig.blogspot.com Billy

    I just purchased http://www.emoticonsareawesome.com.

    I’m just sayin’.

  • http://www.fiskateers.com/blog stephenie

    I have to say that the conversation here never ceases to amaze me. Now, I use emoticons when I am emailing friends and even in some less important work emails, as well as LOL, etc… and I see some fun in using them.

    However, in a work situation, (Sorry V) I have agree with Spike. If I am sending a professional email, the teacher in me will not allow for the cute little emoticons, no matter how much I want to at times. I find that I type much more specifically to help indicate what I am trying to convey – sarcasm, seriousness, etc… because I can’t justify the goofiness at work.

    That said, Spike I like your eyebrow ring and Virginia, this conversation has me ROTFLMFAO… Thanks for a good Friday discussion.

  • Wendy Jo

    Gee, Stephenie…you took the words right out of my mouth.

  • Lauren

    I’m sending Spike an anti-resume this weekend, and after reading this rant, rest assured that it will be emoticon-free (although, there’s a perfect example of an instance when emoticons are completely inappropriate.)

    Emails, on the other hand? I think olivier Blanchard is on to something when he says, “Maybe it’s email that’s the devil.” When Hemingway wrote, his sole intention was to tell a story with strings of beautiful words. The intention behind an office email is to send a message using a faster medium than verbal conversation with each employee would provide, and I think the smiley face at the end of a sentence is just an attempt to electronically replace the smile that one would give if s/he was involved in a face-to-face conversation.

  • http://blogs.delphiforums.com/fortunas Fortunalee

    Occassionally I have to restrain myself from putting an emoticon in a business email, even though I know it would succinctly convey my true meaning. Then I remember that not everyone has been online forever and a day, and not everyone knows what ;) means, much less k:)

    Every generation (and most professions) have their own shorthand, whether it’s visual or verbal. Who’s to say that :-\ is any less valid than -30- ?

  • http://brainsonfire.com Jennifer

    I personally am rather rudimentary with my emoticons, so I tend to pepper my emails with things like {shrug} or {sigh} or {with a heavy heart} (yes… I actually ADD words in this context… but that’s to be expected from me). But overall… I’m going to say that those animated emoticons that jump up and down or blow you kisses… totally inappropriate for the workplace… or for the world. But I do see the basic ones as a fairly innocuous addition to e-language. Far less troubling than the fact that we are raising a generation who will not be able to spell, after the marathon texting.

  • http://www.whatsthediff.com Christy

    Re: -30-
    Let’s just say that we had to explain what # # # meant at the end of a press release.

    Shorthand helps, only if you know it.

    As a “remote employee,” I definitely use emoticons in email to help establish familiarity with new people I’m working with internally. Come on! How dull would a place be to work if you couldn’t throw around a few jokes? It really helps lighten the load.

    However, when emoticons are used *instead* of communication, that’s when I start to have a problem with it.

    Toss me right up on that fence.

  • http://www.ivey-mccoig.blogspot.com Billy

    http://www.emoticonsareawesome.com is now for sale to the highest bidder…


  • http://blogs.delphiforums.com/fortunas Fortunalee

    >> Far less troubling than the fact that we are raising a generation who will not be able to spell, after the marathon texting.


    On the other hand, should we eventually reach the stars, those same “youngsters” that couldn’t spell, will be able to communicate between worlds with a minimum of energy expended, when sending microwave bursts with packets of information.

    Pardon me, my science fiction is showing…