Public impressions today are abbreviated forms of self. The more recent context behind the trend is that of coding, which gave rise to1337 (leet) and ASCII art, which produced the smiley. If we think about how much these languages have penetrated down through society, being used by people who do not even know where they came from, the language becomes totally impoverished. It also represents that Heideggerian idea of man imitating technology, then becoming subsumed by it.
Let us compare the smiley to images of rock art. When you look at the rock art, do you feel you understand what is going on? All those spirals, wheels and lines appear to hold a meaning that is metaphysical and deep.
By comparison and if we remember to consider our human soul, the smiley seems a poor imitation. It becomes relevant because some people expect communication to include smileys now. Some people have stopped addressing people in their emails, but plunge straight into the message. The smiley has usurped "dear" and "most sincerely". One doesn't have to be a stickler for form to realise that along with those omissions, the quality of correspondence has also dwindled. People are hassled, which means they have no will to write, and also that there is not much to write, because there is not much to say when one is all work, and no play.
I think this is characteristic of our age that so much emphasis is put on impressions, and so little on process, mistakes, growth and other organic categories of life. I still find it amusing that people expect to learn something from a brief bio of someone else: no strong company today hires on the basis of the image on paper. Everyone knows that the interview is key.
So, if one wants to take the slow road, one ends up having to take a stand, and fight for it. If one doesn't use smileys, one must sometimes explain why. "It saves time, it is fun," is the argument given in response. But who said we all wanted to save time? Maybe we want to be lavish with it, and bestow it upon those who are around us. But people are afraid of that, because they haven't learned pesky social skills, like learning how to say "no" when one has had enough. I was reading an old Fresh Air interview with Nick Hornby, who said it was having an autistic son that taught him to "be tougher" and "say no to things". He explained, "The moment Danny was diagnosed, it became much easier to keep time for myself and to almost hide behind him." The social skill of saying no is so hard to learn that it is easier to "hide behind" someone else. I couldn't agree more - it is very uncomfortable to learn. So, the easier way is to not learn it, and keep everything shallow.
It is easier not to impose standards on images than to have to stand up to them, and learn how to not take the resistance personally. Character building is the antidote to the poor shadows of images we see today.
Another antidote is to learn to scratch beneath the surface. Before anyone looks at an image, they should either shield their eyes if they're not ready to read, or remember the warning at the oracle at Delphi: γνῶθι σεαυτόν, know thyself. That phrase means many things, among which: pay no heed to the opinion of the multitude. It warns of hubris, and signals to the mystery that lies within each one of us; the mystery of the self that we ought to begin learning how to unravel before it is too late.
The Chinese character for the self, for "I", is 我, which was first depicted as two swords, going against each other. It speaks of contradiction that is inherent, even when we think we smile. The only way one can become consistent in self representation to others is if they have become a parody of themselves. Later, the figure for "I" came to be depicted as a hand grasping a spear: affirming his ego. Perhaps that can happen, only when we first realise the contradiction within us. It is because there is a contradiction that I disagree with watered down communication and images. It looks nice, but after a while, one can become glutted with it, and it no longer does the trick, but become hackneyed.
The public impressions I'd like to see would be varied, those that strive for perfection but are honest of failure, those that are not one-dimensional, but fluent. Ah! But this requires time and knowledge...