One of the few episodes of Ugly Betty I can remember involves Betty (America Ferrera) scolding Daniel (Eric Mabius) for his habit of doling out insincere, double-fisted thumbs-ups. The thumbs-up is an innately lazy gesture that routinely stands in for the minimal effort required to respond—in a positive or sarcastic way—to another person’s utterance or action, like the fist pump or raising the roof or using “proper” as a euphemism. If giving the thumbs up is an indication of affirmation you frequently employ—even if you’re an athletic coach or professional motivational speaker—it will be extremely difficult for friends, loved ones and strangers to take you seriously, and most folks won’t even try.
Beyond the smiley and frowny faces, I’m not a fan of emoticons; there’s a huge, wild world of the things out there now, and they frighten and confuse me. Most of the time I prefer to use words to get feelings and ideas across, but I don’t get mad at anyone opting to pepper their emails or Facebook IMs with goofy miniature images of egg people or four-leaf clovers; variety is the spice of life, right? And since we’re all basically slaves to technology at this point, we may as well embrace this illusionary Matrix of pixelated infinity. By all means, friends, go there.
But please—please—if you and me or you and anyone have to converse via Facebook IM, do the world a huge favor and lay off the pale gray and blue “thumbs up” button, okay? Like, I’m gratified that whatever I had to say to you, whether it’s a reaction, affirmation or compliment, made you light up like a firefly, but clicking that button transforms my intimation to you into something empty and transactional, as though I were a Visa cardholder and you a bored customer-service representative. Like, if you come at me with a left-field emoticon—or whatever we’re calling those things—or a dumb meme, I can at least pretend that you spent more than three seconds working out how to answer, but a thumbs-up implies that I’m not even worth a millisecond. Don’t do me like that.