October 6, 2010


It's hard to remember now, but there was once a time when emoticons didn't exist.

Or rather, their raw components existed, but the process of stringing them together like some weird, "Good Will Hunting"-style equation in order to show exactly how you were feeling at the time had not yet been foisted upon the typing masses.  (I like to think that it happened by accident; that one day, a man with an end-parenthesis and a man with a colon bumped into each other in a typographical version of, "You got chocolate in my peanut butter/You got peanut butter in my chocolate," and lo, the smiley face emoticon was born.)

Today, though, they're as prevalent as anything else in the English language.  Kids seem to spend more time coming up with clever ways to string characters together than they do on complex portions of their education, like math or finding our country on a globe or tying shoes or making it through 9th grade without getting knocked up.  To parents, it must be a pain; looking over their kids' shoulders has become the modern version of studying hieroglyphics, leaving Mom and Dad frustrated and unable to decipher the run-up to the aforementioned middle-school pregnancies.  To the youth of America, though, recognizing actual human emotion through the process of looking at someone's face has taken a backseat to emoticons.

I should probably get up off my porch chair and stop the charade of separating myself from the young, emoticon-using crowd, considering that I've basically been part of it for years now.  And maybe it's even my generation's fault for extending the traits of our adolescence into our adult lives and influencing the older generations around us, who look to us for what's cool and current in their attempts to keep up with the times and regain their lost youths.  (I'll be covering this so-called "Extended Adolescence" period in a future post.)

With our generation's lack of what was once a common and necessary distance between different areas of life, the divisions that normally separated things like work, family, social time, etc., have basically dissolved and resulted in complete dissemination.  As a result, much of what we'd typically associate with social or home life has gradually become more and more accepted in the workplace.  Watching Mad Men now, for example, wherein a character like Don Draper has completely different personas at the office, at cocktail hour(s), and at home, is like watching footage of cars without seatbelts or pregnant women smoking (both of which you can see on Mad Men, Sundays on AMC!); it seems foreign to the point of being unsettling.

Whether it's because we sort of claim ownership of the emoticon-writing phenomenon or because we don't yet associate it with something that a boss can and/or should do, the existence of smiley faces and LOL's and the like just don't belong in the office.

It's just an odd thing when you click on an email from a boss at work...

And see a random smiley face thrown in at the end of a strictly work-related email...

It's like seeing underpants on Lindsay Lohan.  Something's just a bit off about it...

Is there some sort of deeper meaning to it?  Why would they include that?

Is it some weird flirtation?  Some attempt to be hip or casual?

This person has the power to fire me.  Is this a test?  Am I supposed to emoticon back in response?  If so, what's the proper one?  A similar smiley?  A winking face with lashes?  That monkey face thing?

This is like in Silence of the Lambs when Hannibal Lecter talked about Clarise's childhood to screw with her head...  

That smiley face has become the harbinger of my doom...

There's no reason to put a smiley face there.  It'd be like putting a frowney face after a memo that said, "Here are the specs for the quarterly report."

It's smiling into the very depths of my unworthy, mortal soul...

Why?  Why do you mock me, smiley face??!!

This is what Hell is like.  An unending barrage of context-free emoticons sailing at you from all angles, tormenting you and making you question your faith in social norms, interoffice dynamics, and your faith in god up above...

Or maybe it's just a smiley face.

That's the problem.  We've allowed two simple characters to hold so much power that they shatter the calming, safe barriers that we put up like cubicle walls.  They stick out worse than that creepy guy in Accounting's weird neck mole.

I'm not calling for a professionalism renaissance or anything like that.  Far from it.  I like the idea of a workplace being casual and loose; I think creativity is more easily spawned from a mind at rest.  But it just seems like certain things, for the sake of professionalism or decorum or whathaveyou, should be kept as "work stuff" and certain things should be kept outside of the office, like socks with holes in them or hookers.

I'll have to be more diligent in my own work-related email writing from now on, I suppose, to be the captain on this rickety boat back to normalcy.  I should be able to pull that off, right?


1 comment:

Namie said...

ryan, its your downstairs neighbor namie. you are hilarious! love the pictures as well! :D