Social Media Advice: When Are Emoticons OK?

Social media experts Baratunde Thurston and Deanna Zandt answer questions about how to behave in the digital age. This week's topic: When, if ever, is the right time to use emoticons?

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MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:

And now to our social media gurus. Returning this week are Baratunde Thurston, former digital director at The Onion and author of the book "How to Be Black," also, Deanna Zandt. She's the author of "Share This: How You Will Change the World with Social Networking."

Today's topic is all about emoticon etiquette. Emoticons: you know, expressions of emotions in text, smiles and frowns using colons and parentheses. So Baratunde and Deanna discuss when, if ever, is the right time to use them.

DEANNA ZANDT: Emoticons are a touchy subject for a lot of people in expressing...

BARATUNDE THURSTON: Would you say they're an emotional subject?

ZANDT: They are.

(LAUGHTER)

ZANDT: They are very emotional.

THURSTON: Yes.

ZANDT: And people react differently. They can be very passive-aggressive. You know, it's like, hey, expecting that report from you - smiley.

THURSTON: Right.

ZANDT: You know...

THURSTON: Way to behave at the party last night - wink.

(LAUGHTER)

ZANDT: So, I, you know, I think you do have to be careful with how you actually express yourself. And maybe look for some verbiage that is more attuned to what you're trying to say.

THURSTON: Are you calling for a higher level of articulation on the Internet, Deanna?

ZANDT: You know what? I think it's time.

THURSTON: My take on it is, you know, the emoticon is a response to a hyper focus on text communication.

ZANDT: Mm-hmm.

THURSTON: We've evolved to communicate in so many different ways. As human bodies and human people, we've got smell and facial expressions. And the Internet strips all that away from us...

ZANDT: Yeah.

THURSTON: ...and forces us all to become writers. And not everybody is a writer.

ZANDT: I think we're actually relying too much on the tools to do the work for us, that we need, you know, kind of digital literacy training and to train ourselves to stop and think: Did my cousin Betsy actually mean to say XYZ.

THURSTON: Mm. Yeah. So you're calling for not only more articulate people on the Internet but more thoughtful.

ZANDT: Yeah, it is time. It's 2012, people.

(LAUGHTER)

THURSTON: Good luck, Internet.

ZANDT: It seems like the Mayans - this is what the Mayan calendar was actually about, the end...

THURSTON: Oh, about transcendence?

ZANDT: ...of the world and transcendence...

THURSTON: Yeah.

ZANDT: ...and to thoughtful articulation and communication on the Internet.

THURSTON: God, you really believe in people. That's amazing.

ZANDT: I do. I do.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "DON'T WORRY BE HAPPY")

BLOCK: That's Deanna Zandt and Baratunde Thurston. Have a question for our experts? You can email it to alltech@npr.org.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "DON'T WORRY BE HAPPY")

BOBBY MAC FARING: (Singing) Here's a little song I wrote. You might want to sing it note for note. Don't worry, be happy.

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