affective design

Exploring Emotional Design

The Emoticon Turns 25 :-)

I’d like to wish a happy belated birthday to the smiley face emoticon, which recently turned 25! Wow! Has it really been that long? The emoticon doesn’t look a day over 21… 😉

According to a Wired News article, professor Scott E. Fahlman from Carnegie Mellon University was the first to use those three familiar keystrokes to provide emotional context for text sent via email on Sept. 19, 1982.

“I propose the following character sequence for joke markers: 🙂 ” wrote Fahlman. “Read it sideways.”

Emoticons are now widely used to help provide messages with emotional context; everything from embarrassment and shame to love and affection. They’re used in instant messaging programs, social software applications, email and almost everywhere else. Many sites, like this one, even convert the three keystrokes into an image automatically.

Normally, emotion is conveyed through tone of voice, body language and other unconscious cues like interpersonal distance. In the absence of body language, as when talking on the phone, tone of voice remains a powerful indicator of emotional state.

Emoticons are a brilliant little innovation, if for nothing more than their pure efficiency. The fact that a few illustrative keystrokes of punctuation, (not used as punctuation) can completely alter the meaning of a statement never fails to amaze me. But maybe I need to get out more. And this seems like a good reason to celebrate. 😉

For more on communicating emotion online, see:
Representing Emotions on the Internet

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