In an effort to demonstrate our range of human emotions and yet still move beyond the constraints of basic punctuation and a shrunken vocabulary, we, as a technically evolved culture, have dawdled across our keyboards and touchpads and discovered an abundance of ways to form a smiley face.

I’m constantly amazed at the variety.

Writer Robin Conte, at work and at play, experimenting with emoticons. (Special)

Even though there are myriad variations on your average smartphone — ranging from a blushing grin to a sassy wink to a nostril flaring devil to a cry-me-a-river — there are those of us who won’t succumb to pre-packaged emoticons and prefer to inject our own creations into our correspondences. Others of us take into account the coolness factor and, in so doing, shun the ready-mades altogether.

And of course, there are those who compose actual emails on an actual laptop and thus have the full keyboard at their disposal at all times, and who have experimented with all the emotional combinations available, creating their own emoticons out of punctuation marks and using what I will call “puncticons.”

I know you’ve seen puncticons, and I’ll bet you’ve used a few yourself. Like clothing and hairstyle, your puncticon choices reveal something of your personality. If you are like my son, for instance (who can wring more emotion out of a keypad than anyone I’ve ever met), you are not just happy; you’re filled with wide-eyed exuberance =D!, sometimes unsure =d, and sometimes upside down with glee (= .

If you are like my daughter, who is perennially cheerful and cute, you will have fittingly cheerful and cute puncticons, so that when you’re happy, you’re happy cute :D, and even when you’re bummed, you’re bummed cute :/. Most of us like to save time by foregoing the “shift” and “space” keys, and end up being squishy cute ;).

Usually I don’t hit the shift key fast enough, and my faces are filled with nines or underscores :9 ;9 ;_9, which looks a bit piggish and which I doubt will catch on.

My biggest problem comes when I insert a puncticon into a parenthetical phrase (which I often do), and then I end up making a happy face with a double-chin (and it’s somewhat confusing :)).

I decided to experiment with the happy-face theme myself, punching keys to see what shapes they’d make and feeling like a kid with a new box of crayons curious about just what color “sienna” turns out to be. I started by taking the time to give my face a nose :-), but my laptop no longer allows manually created happiness and interjects its own 🙂 .

I put it on html so that I could dress my little face and give him hair }:-) or a mustache :{D for added character. I made Goldilocks with a dollar sign $:D; I made a happy guy with a big nose {: >); and I made an alien (-).

Then I tried to come up with my own personalized happy face, and, since my eyes get all squinty when I smile, I came up with an inferred-joy face ^^. If I want to make a mouth, I’ll have to go to an entirely new line.

Note that with this choice, I can be nothing but surprised.

I will admit that it’s a bit silly, a bit sophomoric, but the truth is that all of these electronically composed faces are made in an effort to soften — and even humanize — the fast-paced correspondence of our times.

And I do find it heartening that even amid our busy lives and our technological haste, we will still take the time for a wink and a smile.

Robin Conte is a writer and mother of four who lives in Dunwoody. She can be contacted at

Robin Conte

Robin Conte lives with her husband in an empty nest in Dunwoody. To contact her or to buy her new column collection, “The Best of the Nest,” see