Historically, the emoticon precedes email by some distance. Is it even plausible that its use with plain text email supplied a seasoning with the affective that plain text must have lacked? Probably not. More likely, as with advertising and pornography (for which see, of course, Agamben), it’s its radical lack of authenticity that’s important. The emotions aren’t really there. Nor would they have been directly represented in, say, a handwritten letter. So emoticons became a substitute for emotion. And what they represent is not the hidden presence of emotion but its lack.
To put that another way, what made email distinctive wasn’t personal tone of voice as an unrepresented thing (as with Stephen Hawking’s synthesiser or, to some degree, with all communication) but the fact of anonymity, the fact that email cut across cultural contexts and boundaries, its occasion for false identity, pure creation.
It has turned us into cartoons.