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Using Emoticons Appropriately In Online Conversations

Updated on January 8, 2011
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LA is a creative writer from the greater Boston area of Massachusetts.

Do you use emoticons?

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Is It Right To Judge?

How many times can you use emoticons in an instant message before it becomes excessive? I’ve always wondered this. While I don’t know the definite answer, I do have an opinion.

At thirteen, having a very basic version of AOL, I didn’t use emoticons. When my friends would use them, I would think it was pretty cool. I did everything I could to update my family’s computer enough to install a better version of the America Online program. After I finally did, I started using the emoticons, finally feeling hip. By this time, my friends had installed an even better version. These emoticons could move. They came in various shapes, sizes, colors and themes. In comparison to their dancing cowgirls, my yellow smiles were sophomoric. I went on a quest to find a better version of the program. I wanted to be cool like them.

During my senior year of high school, I bought my first laptop computer. This Compaq had great features, the best of which was a preinstalled version of America Online that my friends didn’t have yet. For two whole weeks, I was the cool one. I used my special emoticons proudly and excessively. It wasn’t until I was having an instant message conversation with a stranger that I was brought back down to Earth. She, being an older and, in her opinion, wiser communicator, told me I used the emoticons too much. While my ideas were fresh and interesting, she said, she couldn’t continue the conversation for fear I would use another smiley face. She told me I was immature for being so expressive and to delete emoticons from my program so I wouldn’t be tempted to use them again. As I’m mentioning this now, it obviously has stuck with me. For her to make such an assessment based upon graphics was wrong. I may have used one too many smiley faces, but, like someone with spinach in their teeth, if they have something good to say, you ignore the annoyance and concentrate on the ideas.

Still, after talking to overly perky people via AIM, I will admit that a smiley face can hop on your last nerve. I had a friend in college who used an emoticon per line. Often, she would send a whole line of emoticons. To me, that is when emoticon use should be suspended. While I’ll admit they are great icebreakers, once you’ve established a certain relationship/degree of comfort with someone, you should be able to count on your friend to understand your meaning without graphic explanation.

What is the proper etiquette for using emoticons? I would say that, like a laugh, you should pepper a conversation with only so many. To me, someone who depends explicitly on emoticons is just as bad as the people who giggle throughout a conversation. While we appreciate that you’re happy and are in touch with your emotions, it just doesn’t look good or say much for your character if you cross the line. Yet, as with every lesson on etiquette, it begs the question of if, by making an issue out of something so small, are we running the risk of committing an even worse faux pas?

This content reflects the personal opinions of the author. It is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and should not be substituted for impartial fact or advice in legal, political, or personal matters.

© 2009 L A Walsh


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