The problem with this advice is that it assumes that all emoticons are meaningless flourishes, and that without them the unvarnished truth of human communication will naturally express itself in text form. Unfortunately, it isn't that simple. According to some social scientists, online communication carries an innate "negativity bias," a tendency for people to assume the absolute worst about the person whose words they're reading. To demonstrate this bias, imagine that you're clocking in for another morning at the goat farm where you work. As you sit down in your office and power up the goat-distribution software, your boss sends you this email:
Going to be late to work today. Please hold down the fort until 10, if you can manage it :)
Awesome, you think, as you send off another order of goats. Can do! But now, let's say your boss phrases the message like this:
Going to be late to work today. Please hold down the fort until 10, if you can manage it.
If you're like most people, you'll interpret that second email in a sarcastic, "I don't believe you can handle goat distribution at all" sense that probably makes you want to punch your stupid boss right in his stupid face. There's no tone or facial expression in the message, and no emoticon to compensate for that lack, and this creates a kind of emotional vacuum that most people fill up with an unwavering assumption of assholishness. No wonder we're always yelling at each other.
"Baby squirrels are cuter than kittens?! I will fucking kill your whole family."
Given that communication without smileys causes the online world to morph into a terrible place filled with insult-hurling douchebags, emoticons should be a no-brainer, right? Except that, apparently, adding in the old "I'm not an asshole" smiley-face addendum might cost you. A study in which participants rated fake employee cover emails with and without smileys found that employees were assigned lower pay recommendations if they used emoticons, and were considered less likely to show "independence" and "leadership."
In other words, as soon as you open that email program, you've got no choice but to put yourself in the category of either "raging douchehole" or "spineless wimp who doesn't like money." So be sure to balance out any emoticons you use by adding a small message to your boss telling him how much you'd enjoy hearing the lamentations of his women.
C. Coville has a Twitter here and a Tumblr here.