In digital communication a smile is better than one thousand words
Are emoticons the real universal language?
by Ilaria Sala
While in the past the main tools of public speakers were meetings and handshakes, nowadays in our press offices, both regarding traditional and digital PR, the practice of writing exceeds the one of conversation by far, it doesn’t matter if the latter is on the phone or in person. Writing has always been an important part of our work, but over the last few years it has obtained an even wider role, as we have all become multitasking and we exploit multi-channel opportunities which tend to converge styles and ways of conversation b2b and b2c, smoothing the boundaries between private and professional life. While we are chatting with a journalist we post on Facebook, write an email or sum up in 140 characters the news we want to highlight on our Twitter profile, while receiving a WhatsApp notification not necessarily relevant to our working activity .
In this new balance between written and oral communication, with the first that has overtaken the second, the mood of the writer, tone and facial expressions have felt the need of finding new ways to reveal themselves. And those ways have been found thanks to emoticons that, contrary to the common opinion, are neither a recent invention nor an insignificant element.
The union between the emotional side and the icons originated in 1881, as a typographic art of the American comic newspaper Puck, even though it was the computer scientist Scott Fahlman who proposes the extensive use that everybody knows. Now more than ever emoticons diffusion, considered by some people either as a teenager fashion or as a phenomenon so popular that has no longer meaning, actually fills the gap of the traditional written communication. And this can turn out to be an added value in the communication mediated by technology.
It is true that emoticons are logical whereas face language is spontaneous and traitor sometimes, but it is likewise true that who receives our written texts gives a meaning to the emoticons he sees. An Australian research actually showed that our brain interprets a smiley as a real smile, because when we find in a message the symbol of a smiley the smile is reciprocated.
This correspondence is not to be underestimated in our daily communication: emoticons help us to interpret a message, especially when we interact with foreign colleagues speaking a different language or when we give a rushed reply and the written text, all alone, would appear too blunt. Virtual smiles are even useful to establish good relationships with customers, suppliers or partners we seldom interact with because of different roles and tasks. Moreover, a smiley helps to make a reprimand to interns less heavy or to laugh at the ammendments made to the opinion article discussed with the client. However, we don’t have to go too far with emoticons’ usage, otherwise we run the risk of obtaining unwanted results.
Every expert has his own opinion, but it is a given that emoticons have already become part of our society. We notice that by realizing how many different industries they are used in. Donatella Versace presented at her fashion shows an emoticon inspired collection, stating that “technology is the real fashion at the moment”; Linea 77, as a teaser to launch their new album, promoted a contest in which their fans were asked to solve emoticons-made rebus in order to discover 77 related bands; the British band The Wombat entitled “Emoticons” the set piece of their third album; Ikea even presented its own “Ikea emoticons” to make easier for couples to talk about their home furnishings!
The unavoidable emoticons usage is widespread and it is ready to evolve exactly like every authentic language does. It is already possible to see on Instagram the creations by Yung Jake, who proposes original caricatures and illustrations consisted only of emoticons. To be precise, in this case we are talking about the new era of emoticons, because we are dealing with pictogtams, called emoji, an expression coming from Japane just like NTT DoCoMo, the company that invented them. Moreover, if we think that they have been created flirtmoji for sexting and that Apple and Google are working together on multiethnic emoji, we can realize that our messages are going to be increasingly articulated with first or second generation emoticons that will not be unessential additions anymore.
Is Hal from “2001: A Space Odyssey” among us? I would say…almost!