Emoticons: Cultural Learnings of Technology for Make Benefit Glorious Nuances of Communication

(Note: the above title is not an endorsement of the Borat film.)

Some friends of mine (most of them from the Manspeak blog) have criticized men’s use of emoticons. Evidently, they believe the utilization of technology to enhance communication is somehow unmanly. I find their stance disconcerting, especially since they purport a pursuit of genuine masculinity. I have been repeatedly persecuted by them for using emoticons and have decided a refutation is in order.*

Before the invention of computers and cell phones, modes of communication were simplified. People conversed with each other face to face. Phrases like “Thou milksop,” “A Pox on thee,” and “Thou art a misbegotten son of Beelzebub” were easily understood.

Nowadays, words aren’t always enough. In some cases, signs and symbols must be added to words to clarify their meaning. How much more important are signs in the technological age in which we live, when many forms of communication lack necessary elements of physical expression (posture, vocal tone, articulation, gestures, facial contortions, and so on)?

Emoticons are signs; they constitute a form of paralanguage (the non-verbal elements of communication used to modify meaning and convey emotion). When social interaction takes place electronically (in emails, message boards, instant messages, etc.) emoticons can be a helpful aid in implying a writer’s tone and clarifying one’s intentions.

It is interesting to note that the first emoticon was introduced to the world by (you guess it) a man: Scott Elliot Fahlman. He believed the smiley face would help people on message boards to distinguish serious posts from jokes. Fahlman’s creation wasn’t the result of an empty mind; he received his bachelor’s and master’s degrees in 1973 from MIT, and his Ph.D. in 1977 (also from MIT).

Emoticons can even act as a social faux pas safeguard. I once read about a woman who thought “LOL” meant “Lots of Love” and wrote the following message to an unbeliever: Jesus loves you. LOL. That didn’t exactly convey the message she intended. Instead, this woman could have used an emoticon: Jesus loves you. :-)

Effective communicators communicate effectively. And how can they be effective while avoiding clarity? Emoticons enable us to be more emotionally honest with others. Are we to eschew emoticons simply because it makes one more vulnerable? I think not. Such a stance is quite unmanly.

A technological tool such as an emoticon is amoral; what makes it proper or improper is the context in which it is used. Indeed, the use of emoticons can be a means of grace in electronic communication. A man’s refusal to use emoticons, therefore, is nothing less than a refusal to be a conduit of the grace of God. Now, what does the Bible say about a person with a prideful posture? Hmmm… Oh, I remember! “God resists the proud but gives grace to the humble.”

Emoticons enable us to pursue humility for the glory of God. In fact, I propose that when writing electronic messages, we men keep in mind the following acronym: WEWJU (woo-joo). It stands for “What Emoticon Would Jesus Use?” This way, we can be ever mindful of our position as stewards of the gift of communication.

In closing, here is my “man law” proposal: if your emotions are coy, you’re no man—just a boy So let’s communicate like mature men. And to any male who refuses to do so, I have one more thing to say to you: :-b

* Disclaimer: a bit of hyperbolic jest is used in this discourse. Like the use of emoticons, hyperbole and jest can be beneficial practices in communication. Dismissing the above discourse on the grounds of said use of hyperbole and jest is the moral equivalent of dismissing Braveheart as a chick flick because the actors wear kilts.