The so-called Father of Emoticons has lambasted his creation's more illustrative successors -- calling modern Emoticons and Emoji unattractive and unimaginative.
"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," said Professor Scott Fahlman, a computer scientist at Carnegie Mellon University who has been widely credited with the originating of the first smiley emoticon.
"I propose the following character sequence for joke markers: :-)," wrote Fahlman at the time. "Read it sideways."
As Fahlman notes in his blog, the original aim of the emoticon was a straightforward one: to allow users on the university's bulletin boards to highlight posts that were meant to be humorous or sarcastic, but that might otherwise be misconstrued as serious:
Given the nature of the community, a good many of the posts were humorous (or attempted humor). The problem was that if someone made a sarcastic remark, a few readers would fail to get the joke, and each of them would post a lengthy diatribe in response…
This problem caused some of us to suggest (only half seriously) that maybe it would be a good idea to explicitly mark posts that were not to be taken seriously. After all, when using text-based online communication, we lack the body language or tone-of-voice cues that convey this information when we talk in person or on the phone. Various “joke markers” were suggested, and in the midst of that discussion it occurred to me that the character sequence :-) would be an elegant solution.
In a recent interview with the Independent, Fahlman said he never expected the emoticon to take off like it did.
"This was a little bit of silliness that I tossed into a discussion about physics," he said. "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."
Of course, Fahlman's simple idea marked just the beginning of the long and 'cutify-ing' evolution of the emoticon -- which will celebrate its 30th birthday this month.
The emoticon has, of course, come a long way from its original iteration of those three simple keyboard strokes.
Other than the more graphic, yellow-faced emoticons now available, we now have emoji (representing everything from a bowl or ramen noodles to graphic faces expressing the gamut of emotion) and emojicons (an elaborate take on the simple emoticons from yesteryear).
Though widely credited with inventing the digital smiley face, Fahlman may not have been the first to imagine or even use an emoticon.
In a post entitled "The Very Long History of Emoticons," website Good.is notes:
In 1887, Ambrose Bierce wrote an essay, "For Brevity and Clarity," suggesting ways to alter punctuation to better represent tone. He proposed a single bracket flipped horizontally for wry smiles, "to be appended, with the full stop, to every jocular or ironical sentence."
Then in 1969, Vladimir Nabokov was interviewed by The New York Times, which asked him how he ranks himself among living writers and those of the immediate past. "I often think there should exist a special typographical sign for a smile—some sort of concave mark, a supine round bracket, which I would now like to trace in reply to your question," he said.
Some people have even credited Abraham Lincoln as the brains behind the first emoticon.
As the Independent notes, plenty of "nerds and conspiracy theorists" alike have pointed out that 150 years ago, in a 1862 edition of The New York Times, a transcript of one of Lincoln's speeches appeared to contain a modern-day ;-). The jury is still out on this one.
No matter the origin, however, it seems that the emoticons (emoji, emojicons and all) are here for the long haul.
Ugly, useful or the bane of modern life? What do you think of the emoticon?