Emoticon overload is so common, it’s now a phrase in the urban dictionary! NYTimes posted a blurb on this topic three years ago and there is much advice out there on how to use emoticons sparingly in business communication. Digital body language is a topic of study now. Emoticons were introduced to convey the tone that is often not otherwise known in digital conversation. However, we are at a generation today where these are abused to the extent that the real tone of the conversations are difficult to glean.
So, why are we obsessed with emoticons? Why have we taken it to a point that called for smiley abuse awareness?! The fact is that we often want to say things in a lighter tone and keep an out to get away with things we say. With a smiley next to it, at best, there is room for ambiguity. We get so used to it, anything you say without an emoticon appears serious and sometimes even annoyed. We like to keep the reader guessing as to what is just-for-fun and what is more serious than that.
This is one reason even socially introvert people are comfortable having a big presence online and a large group of friends in social networks. The removal of the physical proximity provides a level of comfort to people – this is why we often find people who are otherwise introverts having hundreds of friends in social networks and things being said in asynchronous digital media that would not get spoken in voice communications!
How bad is this? My take is that it depends on the people involved in the conversation. But the risk is in getting used to it so much that conversing without emoticons ceases to feel normal. As long as we can be in control of our digital etiquette and know when to use what conventions, we are safe!