Whatever you want to call it — smiley, emoticon, face, or whatever — there’s no doubt of the enormous impact that the simple creation of Scott Fahlman has on internet users today (and even SMS).
Back on September 19, 1982, Scott Fahlman (and others) devised a way in which bulletin board users at Carnegie Mellon University could differentiate between serious posts and sarcastic posts (it was a big enough problem that they had to make up a set of “rules”).
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. That would stir up more people with more responses, and soon the original thread of the discussion was buried. In at least one case, a humorous remark was interpreted by someone as a serious safety warning.
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 â€œjoke markersâ€ were suggested, and in the midst of that discussion it occurred to me that the character sequence would be an elegant solution â€“ one that could be handled by the ASCII-based computer terminals of the day. So I suggested that. In the same post, I also suggested the use of to indicate that a message was meant to be taken seriously, though that symbol quickly evolved into a marker for displeasure, frustration, or anger.
Man, if it weren’t for the smiley emoticon, I think communicating online with people would be a lot harder than it is. Even if I don’t necessarily use “:-)”, the variation that I do use — “:)” still has its roots back in 1982. Haha, that’s kinda funny…it’s older than me.