There are certain things so ubiquitous—things we all have used and enjoyed like we share equal ownership over them—that it is hard to imagine any single mortal person creating them. Things like this:
: – )
But the emoticon, that display of feeling crafted from punctuation, does have a birth story, and it unfolded exactly 32 years ago today, on Sept. 19, 1982.
Scott Fahlman, a computer scientist at Carnegie Mellon, noticed that conversations were going awry on electronic message boards the staff was using to communicate in the early 1980s. Jokes were being lost, tones were being misconstrued and unnecessary tirades were eclipsing the intended discussions. So Fahlman, then in his early 30s, made a simple, legendary suggestion: if you’re being humorous or ironic, label your comment with a smiley face made of a colon, dash and parenthesis.
Soon emoticons were spreading to other universities, then seeping into emails…
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