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Curious Georgie: The price of a smiley face... Emoticon charges to make you frown

This week it emerged that naughty phone companies were charging customers up to 40p a shot for signing off with a smile


As a pre-schooler who is utterly committed to the wonders of the digital age (I learned to screen swipe before I mastered the art of finger food consumption) I’ve grown up thinking of emoticons as just another part of the 21st century vocabulary.

I can’t remember a day when emotion icons - to give them their Sunday name (see what they did there?) - haven’t featured somewhere.

Rarely a message goes by - be it of the text, WhatsApp, twitter, Facebook, email or instant messenger variety - without the sender using some sort of illustrative sign off.

What began as a clever clogs use of punctuation (colon + dash + closing bracket = smiley face etc) has devloped into a whole new language for anyone who uses digital devices to communicate.

Every kind of facial expression imaginable is available in emoticon form.

So whether you want to convey your happiness, sadness, frustration, anger, despair, pure joy, incandescent rage, shock, hysteria, excitement, anxiety, wonder.... (you get the idea), there will be a simply drawn, usually yellow face just waiting to be selected. And that’s not all.

Once it was noted people liked to use visual aids in their text-based messages, the library of little pictures to tag on to the bottom exploded.

You’d be hard pushed to find an occasion which didn’t have an appropriate accompanying image.

There’s even a steaming poop. (I know this because I once hilariously sent one from Mum’s phone to her old boss. How we - well how Big Bro Fred - laughed when the return message came, sporting nothing but a question mark.)

So yes, emoticons have become common place across the messaging board.

But this week it transpired that the cost of its rise in popularity may be more than simply another chink in the armour of face to face human interaction. (A subject for another day.)

It seems some of the naughtier phone companies have been charging people whenever they’ve said it with little pictures, many of which come built in with the handset. Sneaky.

You see it costs more to send a picture and depending on how your phone distinguishes between emoticons and, say, photographs, smiley-face-sending customers could be unknowlingly paying hand over fist for exprexting themselves (did you see what I did there?) It also means that those poor peeps who have been charged up to 40p per message for signing off with a smile could have opted instead for the personalised approach and taken an actual picture of themselves making a suitably expressive face, and sent that for the same price.

In what strikes me as a rather ageist turn of events, sending emoticons on older handsets puts the sender at particular risk of being slapped with an unexpected bill.

One poor lady in Scotland was charged more than £1,000 for getting creative with her texts. (Granted, that is a lot of texts to be sending and there may be an argument for her getting out more, but still, no-one should be penalised for infusing their messages with a bit of personal pizazz.)

Mind you, although I could not disagree more with these underhand charges (angry face), the whole business has made me think that maybe we should all rely less on miniature pacman wannabees to convey what and how we are feeling.

Surely our friends and family would much rather see for themselves whether we’re happy, sad, or otherwise. Isn’t that what they invented Facetime for?

Mirrorpix A chimpanzee
A chimpanzee

I Now Know...

... Sound the Octoalert! The Octonauts (aka my absolute favourite underwater adventurers) are going on tour. Not only that, but they’re bringing a deep sea volcano with them. Big Bro Fred says he’ll come with me to see them. He sees it as some sort of nostalgia trip I think. He was a devotee of Captain Barnacles when I was but a twinkle in Daddy’s left peeper. I don’t think I’ve been this excited since Mum told me she’d secured us tickets for Sing-a-long Frozen next month. *pause for exciteable shriek and the sourcing of my Elsa shoes*.

... Celebrity mother hen Myleene Klass may not be as clever as she makes out when it comes to being schoolyard-savvy. The mum of two publicly ridiculed two sets of parents at her daughter’s school for their email request for donations of cash towards big presents for their children, rather than individual birthday gifts from kids going to their joint party. Now while I agree with Myleene in principle, that this was a pretty ridiculous state of affairs - putting it out there within a stampy-footed twitter tantrum is not going to endear her to the mums and dads at the school gates... and is probably going to result in some right royal ribbing for her daughters. Come on Myleene, think more than one tweet at a time eh?

... Clever chimpanzees (which I think covers pretty much all of them) can learn what amounts to new languages. Researchers (more clever peeps) have found that the chimps they were studying were able to change their grunts to communicate with new companions. So when some new arrivals to a Dutch safari park found that their grunt for ‘apple’ did not chime with that of the locals, they opted to change theirs to match - presumably to avoid a boatload of confusion at the next Bob The Apple tournament. This news has only strengthened my resolve to have a primate living in our house by Easter.

10 year old Toby Lee
10 year old Toby Lee

A Gold Star for... Toby Lee

Every week I award a gold star to a child of my choosing. The child in question may be real or fictional, historic or current, and the award may be for a specific act or a wider body of work. Basically they are my stars and I’ll give them to whoever I choose, assuming I don’t stick them all to the lounge telly first.

Like most children I’ve always found the concept of ornaments difficult to grasp. Why would you have something that isn’t to be touched in any circumstances?

My Grandma has a collection of tiny dolls houses that are lined up on her mantelpiece (or Lilliput Lane as she calls it) that I could spend hours playing with, but my Dad has kittens when I try and reach them on tippy toes.

The only things worse than ornaments are objects that you know are supposed to be banged or played or spread all over the house, but your parents just won’t let you.

We have a drum kit that Gramps got Big Bro Fred for Christmas a few years ago that gets about five bashes a day, but only because Daddy usually appears like a bear with a sore (and grumpy) head to shout “Not now, not now!” whenever anyone picks up a drumstick.

As if our neighbours might be sleeping at 4pm on a Tuesday.

This week’s gold star winner would be about as popular in our house as a trump in a lift (I feel confident making this assertion following yesterday’s bottom cough/elevator experiment in John Lewis).

Ten-year-old Toby Lee from Bloxham, Oxfordshire, might be the noisiest child in Britain, and his love of loudness is winning him a lot of fans.

Toby has been playing the electric guitar since he was six, and if I tell you his idol is Angus Young of the hard rock band AC/DC, you’ll know that the volume on his amp is always set to maximum.

Thankfully Toby’s daddy is a bit more musically-minded than mine, and has been posting videos of his prodigiously talented son online.

The most recently uploaded video show’s Toby playing AC/DC’s Thunderstuck, appropriately attired in school uniform and it’s already had an amazing 1.4 million views.

Despite his new global fanbase though, Toby is remaining admirably modest, saying : “I give my guitar playing 9.5 out of 10, because no-one is perfect”.

(For clarity, he hasn’t met me yet.)

Even my Daddy couldn’t help but be impressed, and I think Toby’s axe-wielding has already had a profound impact on him – he’s promised to take me to Windows this weekend to buy me an air guitar, whatever one of those is.


David Whetstone
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