The emoticon, a newly created word for a new communication platform, is starting to show up in corporate email communications. The NY Times wrote about it not too long ago. The word is a contraction of "emotion" and "icon." So much of our communication now goes via email, no longer by telephone conversation or formal letter. Email is a more casual way of communicating, and we are quick to type away and push the "send" button without pondering the consequences of "quick."
Although we cannot see a person's face during a telephone call, and therefore cannot read facial expression, we can still hear and interpret voice modulation, which tells a lot about a person's feelings or emotions. A letter is a formally written document. We take time to hone the wording carefully, and read it over a few times so it sounds just right before sealing the envelope and sticking the stamp on.
An email lacks both these qualities and with it the emotional content which contributes so much to our interpretation. We don't spend enough time honing the wording of emails because it is a quick and casual communication. Because emails lack emotion they can easily sound curt, abrasive, even unprofessional or demanding. That's where the emoticon comes in. People are sensing emails' emotional lack and are adding it back in with the help of emoticons. Emoticons emulate facial expressions such as a wink ;), a smile :), or an expression of dislike or disapproval :(. They add the human element back into this form of electronic communication.