Many of you reading this article right now can't imagine a world before the Internet. Either you were too young, or the Web has entangled itself so completely into your everyday life that the very wiring of your brain has adjusted accordingly.
But the world hasn't changed as much as we think. In fact, many of the things we think of as being unique to the Internet generation pre-date it by decades.
Here's something that has to have originated in online culture, right? Nothing symbolizes the "lazily use as few keystrokes as possible" culture of the email/text message generation like combining punctuation to convey human emotions.
For example, this lets people know that there is a spider on your face and you are wearing a party hat.
Actually Been Around Since...
The first emoticon showed up nearly 120 years ago, when author Ambrose Bierce wrote his essay "For Brevity and Clarity" and proposed a new type of punctuation mark to convey jest, which he knew would make the satire a little more clear in typewritten correspondence where he proposed, say, killing a hobo with a bag of doorknobs.
The new punctuation took the form of a horizontal parenthesis, which was meant to look like a smile, sort of like a written laugh track to cue readers in on all the jokes.
This shit is fucking funny.
Bierce's eyeless horror-smile never caught on, but other versions continued to turn up in places like the personal telegraphs of Abraham Lincoln. Then the most uncanny example of old-timey smileys comes from 1881 when a satirical magazine called Puck--sort of like Ye Olde Cracked.com, presumably with 19th century dick jokes--published its own list of "humorous typographical faces" for use in telegraphs.