Over on Facebook, Matt Kaiser laughs about having used an emoticon for the very first time in an email. I laughed too when I saw this. Although I used to share Matt’s apparent distaste for emoticons (they seemed so gimmicky and cute), it is only recently that I have begun to appreciate their value. We are only so good at conveying the proper tone in an email. Emoticons help to prevent all sorts of misunderstandings.
I have also gained a recent appreciation for the “like” button on Facebook. Scott Greenfield wrote an insightful post this morning over at Simple Justice. I felt the same way upon reading this post as I do whenever I read Henrik Hertzberg: It is exactly what I would have said had I been so intelligent, so able to parse through the complexities of the arguments, and so able to put it all in such a nuanced way. My immediate reaction was to post a comment, the net effect of which would have been to say “yes!” It is what I thought without realizing it.
But I know Scott Greenfield. I have been reading Simple Justice long enough to know that he abhors simple “me too” comments. He would have cussed me out for assuming that anyone would care what I thought unless I had something substantive to add to the discussion. This is the beauty of the “like” button on Facebook. A simple press of the button can signal your acknowledgement, your appreciation, without taking up any space with the blather. We have this need to signal our approval or disapproval with something we see on the Internet.
My father abhorred exclamation points. (He also hated adverbs and most adjectives too.) His idea was that you should be able to write with such precision as to render the exclamation point – and by extension, the emoticon –
completely unnecessary. To do otherwise, he would argue, would be intellectually lazy.
But having seen enough misunderstandings and hurt feelings and flame wars, I think that this is a poor accommodation to the world we live in. With things happening so quickly on email and on the Internet, we may not always have the time to craft our communications just so. In this case, I would rather cut a few corners than offend someone unnecessarily.