I was younger I wrote an opinion piece for The New Republic in which
I denounced smileys (symbols like this :) ) and the people who used them in e-mail,
including Scott Fahlman, who invented them.
smileys piece is an object lesson in why the Internet is sometimes a
bad thing. The problem with the Internet is that nothing fades away
there. And so a silly little opinion piece like this one lives on forever.
In an earlier era, it would have ended up moldering away in a few libraries
where no one would ever see it.
the record, I no longer agree with my own smileys editorial of 1993,
for two general reasons:
I wrote it in a snotty tone that I wouldn’t use if I were writing
- It reflects a
mentality about writing that I clung to early in my career but have
since rejected. According to this mentality, the way to write well is
to produce a bad first draft and then toil through many revisions, editing
it and refining it to bring it ever closer to some supposed Platonic
ideal. If you believe in this (as I used to) and if you apply it to
the topic of smileys, you arrive at the conclusion that smiley users
are lazy writers who could get along just fine without smileys if only
they took the trouble to revise and edit their work a little bit, to
make the meaning clearer. Of course, as Fahlman himself points out in
his web page about smileys, this is not the way people actually write.
Since I wrote my denunciation of smileys, I have become more interested
in the way that people (including myself) actually do write, and have
stopped worrying so much about how they ought to write. So, when I re-examine
what Fahlman and I have written about smileys, I end up agreeing with
Fahlman, and thinking that this Stephenson kid must be living in some
kind of fantasy world.