This morning, I caught myself from lapsing into a grievous error even as I was typing an email.
I was writing a thank you email to some people who had invited us to a pool party. I ended my email by saying, “It was so nice to see you this weekend!”
The exclamation mark conveyed such immense vitality. What possibly could I add to such a bright and perpendicular punctuation to further elaborate on how I felt? Nothing. The exclamation mark allowed me to move on to closing out my email. I could write, Cheers, etc. etc. I could hit the send button.
Now imagine I had written, “It was nice to meet you this weekend.” Without the exclamation mark.
I couldn’t move on to a Cheers, etc. etc. after that. It would sound too empty. Like eating a pie without pie filling. I had to elaborate on why it was so nice to meet them. I was forced to think why I enjoyed meeting them.
So I wrote, “It was so nice to meet you this weekend. After so many days of heat, it was nice to be able to jump in a pool. And it was awesome to be able to have Texan BBQ in a foreign country.”
The lack of the exclamation marks forced me to express in words just why I was thankful. It was a more genuine communication. I felt like an honest man after sending it. I am sure my hosts felt satisfied reading it. “We chose a nice apartment with a pool,” they might have thought. “And it was worth it to wake up at six in the morning and fire up the BBQ.”
There are times when the use of the exclamation mark is permissible.
Caesar was right to tell Brutus “Et tu Brutus!” But in Caesar’s defense, he had just been stabbed. He didn’t exactly have time to elaborate. But if his immediate friends and family wrote to Brutus the next day, I certainly hope they would do better than, “I can’t believe you stabbed Caesar!!!” I hope they would say something like, “I can’t believe you stabbed Caesar. He thought of you like a son. And you betrayed his trust. Etc. Etc.”
If exclamation marks make for lazy thinking, then emoticons are even worse. Last year, I spent a two hour car drive arguing with a friend on why I had never used an emoticon. He was younger than me. He called me old. And silly. Among other things. He said that emoticons had evolved. They allowed him to express complex emotions that couldn’t really be put into words. For example, he showed me this emoticon on his smartphone:
He was flirting with a girl, he said. And this emoticon allowed him to show that he was being goofy.
I got his point. It was a bright picture. It conveyed joy. And they say a picture says a thousand words.
However, imagine you are flirting with a girl called Dina. You use the emoticon. And then you get on the IM with another girl. Say Ashley. And you use the same exact emoticon with Ashley. Aren’t you taking away the uniqueness that is Dina or Ashley? Why would you treat them the same? They are each lovely people in their own way, and there are particular things you like about each of them. Why not convey that uniqueness? For example, Ashley is from Texas. And you take the effort to Photoshop a cowboy hat into the above emoticon. Game on brother!
We live in a world of surplus communications. Most of these communications are filled with jargon. Generic words like “leverage,” “synergy”, “extremism” or “warming” used over and over numb our senses and rob us of the pleasure that comes from taking joy in each other’s individuality. But there is a chance for salvation, if not in the mass media, then in the messages we send each other. We should try and make these as individual and meaningful as we possibly can.