How do you usually communicate with others? Talking with someone face-to-face is the oldest form of basic communication. Over time, though, all sorts of other methods have been invented and gained — and lost — popularity.

For example, writing letters by hand used to be very popular. After the telephone was invented, people found it nice to be able to call someone on the phone rather than waiting to see them in person or to send a letter.

But what about today? How often do you talk with people in person? What about over the phone? Have you written a letter lately?

If you're like most modern kids, you probably do most of your communication via text message, instant message, email, or video chat. Whether you're on a laptop computer, tablet, or smartphone, you probably use the Internet to communicate most of the time.

If you're using these modern electronic means of communication, how do you convey the full meaning of how you're feeling? Of course, using descriptive words and good writing is always one sure-fire way to get your point across.

More and more, though, today's kids — and many adults, too! — rely upon emoticons to help express how they're feeling in more than just words. Emoticons are those little pictures or combinations of characters that create a picture that convey a particular emotion. You might know them as smileys! :-)

Today, there are countless emoticons in use around the Internet. It would likely be impossible to count them all, but it's for certain that they number in the tens, if not hundreds, of thousands, with more and more being created every single day.

Why do we need emoticons? Well, some would argue that we DON'T need them. We should arguably be able to use words creatively to express exactly how we feel.

From time to time, however, we get in a hurry and it's handy to have a shorthand way of letting someone know how we feel about something we've said. For example, what if you received the two texts below?

  • I'm going to the pool. :-)
  • I'm going to the pool. :-(

What messages do they convey? The message with the smiley face indicates the sender is happy or excited about going to the pool. Perhaps a fun day of swimming and relaxing is ahead. The second message, however, expresses sadness or disappointment. Perhaps the sender has to work at the pool or wanted to go somewhere else instead.

Do you see how the use of emoticons can help add meaning to a simple message? That's why they've become so popular in modern communications.

If you're WONDERing how they got their start, you have to go back quite a ways. Special characters have been used in text for hundreds of years to clarify or express particular meanings. Early examples can be found, for example, in Morse code transmissions.

The modern text characters for the common smiling and frowning faces can be traced back to computer scientist Scott Fahlman, who first suggested their use on a Carnegie Mellon University message board back in September 1982. Little did he know what he was starting!

Wonder What's Next?

You’ll want to stick with Wonderopolis tomorrow as we take a look at an attractive tool that has many uses beyond the refrigerator door!