Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Lent and my dearth of smiley faces

After careful deliberation I have decided to indulge in the Lenten penitential tradition by giving up emoticons. Do I need to explain emoticons? 

:-)                    :-(                          ;-)  

Now, before you scoff and sneer, or are offended and think I make light of the tradition of Lenten sacrifice, listen up. I admit that I was initially moved toward this sacrifice out of selfishness. (Once again proven human; how shocking.) As I contemplated giving up something, my brilliant idea of not appending smileys to every other sentence sounded much easier than giving up evening gin and tonics or adding morning Lent readings. 

In spite of receiving a very thoughtful Sunday sermon on the topic, I thought I could skate a bit. Rub a bit of oil on my fasting face, stand on the street corner and pray loudly. And, I would multitask by combining a sacrificial act with one that would be beneficial for me, as I've been lately told that my reliance on emoticons in correspondence is unprofessional and housewifely. 

So the first few days of my emoticon fast were amusing. I began texting friends such sentences as "I am smiling at you" as substitution for a smiley face. It turns out that this is vaguely creepy and so added an additional level of amusement to my emoticon fast. Additionally, I was then required to explain the fast, which was also amusing, particularly to my non-Lutheran friends. 

But even silly actions can induce pondering. As I struggled to avoid smileys and their brethren (do smileys have a gender?) I saw that I had come to rely on them in the face of, at the very least, words.

Yes, that is probably the point of such short cuts. But, as I like words, it seemed short-sighted to use less of them unless said brevity achieved higher quality communication. (Though I do also like my thumbs and my thumbs have been getting a unnecessary and unpleasant workout with the extra verbiage inherent in a smiley-less world.)

I started to wonder if I was using emoticons as a cheap shortcut for indicating emotional attachment and interest without expending one ounce of thought or energy actually articulating those thoughts or interest. I'd essentially embraced a form of communication that might be similar in a teeny tiny way to Bonhoeffer's "cheap grace." I look like I care without having to exert any effort to demonstrate actual caring. 

In a conversation with my daughter, she made an off-hand comment about having thought my brief reply of "smiley" to something she was relating actually meant I didn't want to talk to her! In that setting, it was a conversation-ender, an indication not that I cared but that my caring was time-limited.

Some of you will probably think, "Liz, you think too much and need to get a job." Some of you would most assuredly be correct. (And, if you are looking for an attorney with well-polished writing skills, here I am!) 

And some of you may think, as I do, that paying attention is always a Good Thing. So I will continue my little Lent practice to see what happens with me and my sacrifice. Sic.  


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