Sunday, June 21, 2015

emoticons and emotional fidelity

I'm in favor of emoticons (or smilies, as we used to call them) -- IMs and Texts (and to a lesser extent email) form a blended form of communication, mixing the format of traditional writing with the more casual aspects of spoken speech. Emoticons are ways of pasting over the lack of tone and inflection that the latter enjoys.

(I've noticed some people just sound harsher in email and text. I'm not sure if it's a lack of exclamation points or what- in the case of my Aunt, for example, her friendly intent was more clearly expressed to me when she started using emoji signoffs at the end of her texts)

I like emoji well enough, but I've never been a fan of chat interfaces that used cartoon equivalent for typed smilies, especially when the UI automagically swaps out a :-/ or :) with the yellow-faced "equivalent". I think AOL-IM started doing this in the 90s. I could never figure out if it felt more like a UI engineer showing off or if someone was really afraid people might not get the typographical pun involved. (Perhaps it was just a way of cutting the Gordian Knot around whether the canonical smilie had a dash nose, :) vs :-)  (Not to mention the issue of whether the smile count as the closing parenthesis for a parenthetical aside!)

There's been a lot of interface inconsistency over the years, like whether it was the sender or receiver that was "supposed" to do the conversion-- with extra points off for programmers when a code sample gets ); or :D "helpfully" converted.

And last week I discovered that Facebook adds an extra terrible wrinkle, with a bad inconsistency in the web and iOS form of its chat client. Here is what a :-P looks like on the web:
and here is its appearance in the iOS client:
That's a very different mood, even if the expression is technically the same. (The web version is closer to what I was aiming for, and the set of the mouth closer to what I feel a :-P conveys.)

I feel Apple iMessage gets it about right, leaving typed smilies well alone, but providing an easy interface for adding in a range of smilies (including ones that would lack a typed shortcut equivalent, like rolling eyes) and other fun, goofy little cartoons.

Semi-relevant International Fun Fact: according to my 2007-era self:

it seems common for Russians to forgo the eyes on smilies but multiply the smiles, and just do something like )))) 
Semi-relevant International Anecdote: (this being my my 2003 self)
I learned two new things playing Pictionary with Germans. One thing is that for them, Aladdin's lamp is more of a vase looking thing. The other thing, though, is really big, and might also be a Europe/USA thing, not just English vs German...the Germans have no word for the opposite of smile. And maybe neither do the British. If you look up "Frown" in the Oxford English Dictionary, it talks about wrinkling the forehead, and doesn't mention the mouth at all! They would never come up with a phrase like "turn that frown upside-down", it just wouldn't make sense. I'd love to hear from any British or European folk who can confirm this; it has kind of big implications for the iconography of the different cultures. (Like in Pictionary, the Germans will spend a lot of time drawing wrinkled foreheads...)
Of course, there's a lof differences in how different culture do Emoticons - like the Japanese who orient stuff vertically, ala (^_^) - and of course got into expanded alphabets, allowing seriously fun stuff like ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

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