Lux Absio Bervatum

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Why People Write Their Smilies Backwards

Most of my life I've seen smilies written (typed) this way:
Or if you're fancy:
But lately, especially with younger people, I see it written this way:
I thought it was an odd affectation, like how some folks used to do the "anime" smilies (^_^). Only it's cumbersome. We read left to right. And when we recognize a face we tend to zero in on the eyes first and then the rest (mouth, etc.). So when you read (: left-to-right it's a bit unnatural. Like seeing a face upside down. Speaking for myself, it trips me up a little when I'm reading; I have to go back for a second and reprocess.

So I was trying to figure out why people do it. Here's what I came up with: A lot of instant messaging apps these days automatically convert certain strings into pictures. Like, in Google Hangouts (the Chrome extension version, anyway) if you type :P it automatically converts it to this:

Now that's a fairly faithful representation, but it's not quite the same, is it? If you type :P with a seriffed font you get what look like little creases at the corners of the mouth. And the tongue is off to one side. It's more childish. The Google Hangouts :P image communicates a less carefree feeling. It seems a little weary or sarcastic, like an eye-roll.

I think the reason people type (: is that it doesn't get automatically converted to an emoji/image-emoticon by messaging apps. It seems more common these days for people to use a variety of messaging apps, so you can't always remember which ones do the automatic conversion or what their image-emoticons look like. So sending a non-obfuscated smiley has a chance of producing something that communicates the wrong feeling. I think, to avoid the hassle, some people just change their default smiley to the backwards version. And once you develop that habit it's hard to lose, so you end up doing it in situations where you know full well that your text will be rendered faithfully.

Anyway, this is all conjecture. If you use backwards smilies for a different reason please email me.