Monday, October 1, 2012

What's with the emoticons?

Today's emoticon: a psephy aside

Perhaps one of the most common queries I get about my twitter presence relates to the daily emoticon I send out each morning, well, Monday to Friday. I thought I'd take a short post to explain. 

It must be said, twitter has really loosened up how a buttoned-up, stiff-upper-lip academic type should communicate with the world. Refining a comment to 140chars is a challenge for one whose professional inclination is to take a 500 word answer and turn it into a 97,000 word thesis. But it has taught me to be more thoughtful with words and with the craft of writing. The blogs which are emerging out of this experience are also exciting ways to engage and convey ideas which might otherwise be confined to the academy. And from twitter, it's been straight to local radio commentary as well. It's been quite a year. 

Notwithstanding the sense of freedom, one aspect I didn't expect to embrace, indeed aimed to avoid for 'professional' reasons, was that damned ubiquitous emoticon on tweets, the :) or ;( or some variations I had noticed: an occasional nose job :-) or something like ;-P. To someone new to twitter, and determined to 'keep it serious', I was not going to engage in the emoticon thing >%< ...well, 'Ha!' as one of my favourite tweeps @nancycato1 might say. 

I soon learned that no matter how carefully one thought one had crafted one's 140chars, the possibility for misunderstanding or miscommunication, without the usual visual signals, was quite high. So I started to mimic others, tried a few variations :~}* and also noticed that there were some pretty amazing variations on the theme in my Japanese timelines. Emoticons like: 
confused: (_;) (´_`); 
the dancers: () () (´)┓┏(´)
drinkers: (。・・)_ ~~~_()ノ゙; 
friends: ヽ(^▽^)人(^▽^)人(^▽^)ノ...
and so on and so forth.

One day, I just started adding these variations into my tweets when I felt an expression might help. A number of simple ones are included on the Japanese keypad of my iFruit devices (quite distinct from the 'emoji' keyboard most people have discovered). But there are also several websites available where many examples have been collated. One I like to use is I liked the way the Japanese emoticons were horizontal rather than the vertical, English counterparts. They’re easier to read, rather than turn my head on its side to get your intention.

One day a few kindly tweeps remarked on some of the more adventurous ones and so ‘Today’s emoticon’ was born. It goes out on the timeline early in the morning and directly to those initiated the idea @debbie_green19 @AgnessMack and @nancycato1, and more recently @janecat60 has joined the conversation which can bounce around the twittersphere in that very twittery way.

Sometimes I’ll hint at the meaning for the day, but most times, I just set them free. The emoticons in the end, can mean really what you want them to mean, as a white rabbit might have once said. I am getting more adventurous with my variations but never stray too far from the Japanese usage.

And so, that’s all there is to the tale. It’s just a little cross-cultural twittering I partake in as I share the twittersphere with good people. Enjoy!