As the emoticon gears up to celebrate what many believe to be its 30th birthday later in the month, the Pittsburgh University professor who has been attributed with their conception says that he hates the little yellow icons that they have become in recent times.
At 11.44am on 19th September 1982, Professor Scott Fahlman, of Carnegie Mellon University sent an email on an online electronic bulletin board which many believe was the first use of the sideways smiley face. The email said: “I propose the following character sequence for joke markers: :-) Read it sideways.”
Fahlman proposed the use of the smiley as a means of distinguishing between those were writing humorous emails and those who intended theirs to be taken seriously. He had seen how easily simple jokes and messages could be misinterpreted in their written formats and proposed the use of the smiley as a means of applying tone to the text ensuring that its content was interpreted in the way intended by its author.
Fahlman, a computer science researcher who still works at the university said: “This was a little bit of silliness that I tossed into a discussion about physics…It was ten minutes of my life. I expected my note might amuse a few of my friends, and that would be the end of it.”
Not long after he sent the original email however, word of it spread to other universities and research labs through the primitive networks around in the early 80s and within a few months Fahlman’s sideways smiley had gone global!
Emoticons have changed a lot since Fahlman’s 1982 email. They have become all singing, all dancing so to speak. Some wear sunglasses and hats, some cry, some are so angry they look as if they are about to explode…
Fahlman says he is amazed at the way they took off, but claims that he does not like what they have become today, agreeing with the many who hate them, believing them to represent all that is wrong with the English language!
He said: “I think they are ugly, and they ruin the challenge of trying to come up with a clever way to express emotions using standard keyboard characters. But perhaps that’s just because I invented the other kind.”
Fahlman didn’t have a copy of his original email and several attempts to retrieve it from the university system failed, however in 2002 an engineer from Microsoft finally managed to dig it up, in what Fahlman refers to as a bit of “computer-archeology.”
The fact that Fahlman invented the smiley, is not undisputed however, the professor claims that many people have written to him saying that they used them before he did, but he said that he has not seen any evidence of this.
Some theorists have suggested that the emoticon is actually a hell of a lot older – 150 years older to be precise, pointing to an 1862 edition of The New York Times. This edition contains the transcript of a speech by the great Abraham Lincoln, which appeared to contain a smiley like this ;-)
Whether that was Lincoln’s intention or merely a typing error is still a matter of hot debate.
So what do you think about emoticons, do you love them? Hate them? Think they are fun but in danger of being overused? Leave a comment and let us know…