Monday, October 3, 2011

: ) Happy Birthday Smiley Face ; )

By Kristen Seabolt

A colon, a hyphen and a bracket...who would have thought : - ) could start an emotive phenomenon?

Twenty-nine years ago in 1982, Scott Fahlman, a computer scientist at Carnegie Mellon University, first proposed these three characters as a way to convey emotion using text. His logic behind it was simple – Typing lacks body language and tone of voice, so if someone types a sarcastic remark or joke, people fail to understand its meaning.

However, even though Fahlman is credited with proposing the first emoticon, it is no secret that using symbols to convey emotion were used long before the 80's. In 1862, more than 100 years earlier, a speech by President Abraham Lincoln appeared in The New York Times, and within the transcript was the symbol ; ) (coincidental typo or not?). Furthermore, the bright yellow smiley face we have grown to love came about in 1963, when a freelance artist Harvey Ball designed it for a button to boost company morale.

Since then, much like computers, emoticons have grown to become more than a simple : - ) and : - ( . Hundreds of characters and codes have been created to express emotions and objects, ranging from love, shock and greed, to pigs, cows and monkeys. Back in 2007, Yahoo! Messenger released a survey which showed that 82 percent of users at the time used emoticons on a daily basis, and 61 percent said they felt they best expressed themselves in instant messaging using these symbols.

However, in our fast-paced and ever-growing digital age, are elaborate and detailed emoticons losing steam and popularity? Today, the iPhone text message does not automatically support emoticon graphics, and Gmail’s Gchat default emoticon settings are text-based with simple animation. Are the days of ô¿ô behind us (yes, I remember that code from my days of AOL IM)?

But, if you are one of those who can’t get enough smiles and smiley faces, this Friday is World Smile Day, which is celebrated every year on the first Friday of October. Be sure to show off your smiley pride in your Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, MySpace, Gchat and blog worlds : )

Kristen Seabolt is an Associate Account Executive at Maroon PR.  Contact her at

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