Hello February, finally. And thank goodness (despite writing this from the confines of a thermal vest and an alpaca scarf). Last month it was universally recognised that everyone was morose, tired and downright fed up, with cheery encouragement coming at us from all sides. Sure, the bombardment of get fit regimes are nothing to write home about, but there has been more emphasis on general contentedness that has nothing to do with New Year's resolutions.
Take for example, The Good Times, a newspaper project which was circulated on reportedly the most depressing day of the year (16 January) showcasing reasons why the future is bright. Then there's the February issue of Monocle offering a Charm Index, urging people (and companies) to smile, be honest, true and friendly. Easy enough. And lastly, a recent issue of The Guardian: Weekend had a feature entitled "Reasons to be Cheerful," again listing why we should be happy happy happy in 2012 (Olympics, living through the end of the world, etcetera).
Overkill? I think so, especially because a touch of cynicism in January usually fares well. But one of the cheery encouragements on this smorgasbord of feel-good factors did actually resonate: the use of the emoticon. The Guardian: Weekend stated that its usage, a "seismic shift in communications" has been "so woefully underreported." I completely agree, so here I am cheerfully reporting on it because why the hell not? And it is with this same view that I approach the utilisation of emoticons: why the hell not?
The emoticon got cool again. The simple and cheeky communicative zeitgeist that is the smiley face of the 21st century is no longer confined to the realm of teenage girls (perhaps because social media is no longer confined to the realm of teenagers). Take my dad, for instance. My dad, one of the people I was sure would never have entered into emoticon domain recently began closing every single text with a context-appropriate smiley. If my dad - who lets many facets of modern-day technology go over his head - is using them, so should everyone else.
I am an avid user of the emoticon as you'd guess. I've even graduated 90 degrees from the sideways expression to the straight looking ^_^. Call it cute, kooky, silly, childish, but isn't it the best way to express oneself? A simple ^_^, :-), or =D answers in the affirmative, whereas a :-S, :-/, or o_O evokes confusion, ambiguity or angst. A friend once even replied to an awkward question from a housemate regarding an unpaid electricity bill with a simple squiggly face. It's palliative and honest, and gets the message across as if they were really looking at our guilty mug in the flesh.
And before the sensible, boring, adversaries fight back, I urge you to look at the history of the kiss (x). Gone are the days when we reserved these little tokens of our love and lust for those who are truly deserved of it. Now we live in a world where the x is a given, an automatic appendix. Now even work emails are signed off with a devalued, clinical, x. I try my hardest to avoid it but, as if it were mechanically programmed into my set-up, I often end emails with one of the little buggers.
Of course, we're not teenagers. We're professional, straight talking adults. But, if I want to sign off a text to my friends with a cat face made completely of brackets and inverted commas, then I will. The receiver will appreciate it (and if they won't, I don't bother). It's a tongue in cheek gesture, like wearing pigtails, using nail transfers or having a glittery iPhone cover. It's an acquired taste, if you will. Perhaps it's because there are a lot of under-18s in my family with whom I often converse via social media. Or perhaps I still yearn for the MSN Messenger era where true feelings could be brushed under the rug with a simple :-(. Who knows. I'm not advocating signing off salary-related emails to your boss with a wink, but if we want to be wholly positive this year than I suggest giving it a go. A small step, true, but a fun one. Get creative. Go on, you know you want to.
Follow Jade Conroy on Twitter: www.twitter.com/jaders_