|Get the best of Oprah.com in your inbox. Sign up for our newsletters!|
The Invention That Makes Everyone Smile. Literally.
Twenty-nine years ago, a man named Scott Fahlman introduced an invention that changed the world. The smiley emoticon.
Fahlman had noticed "lengthy diatribes" on message boards from people taking offense at misunderstood posts, so he proposed the use of a smiley— :-) —to indicate a joke or sarcasm, and the smiley's fraternal twin— :-( —to indicate something to be taken seriously. MSNBC has a fascimile of the (very funny) original smiley-introducing exchange in context.
As we now all know, Fahlman's innovation spawned a whole complex universe of emoticons (how does my mother-in-law know how to text me a heart? It really looks like a heart!). Fahlman's smiley has probably clarified millions of the uninflected jokes that boing around the Internet every day. But what I love most about this is the "of course!" of it all, how Fahlman created something so brilliantly simple that it seems inevitable, as if it must never have been invented at all. Which is what makes it such a smart innovation. There must be a word for that phenomenon. Or perhaps an emoticon.
Other brilliantly simple innovations:
A simple idea, inspired by her kids' shoes, turned this mom into a millionaire.
The evolution of an everyday object.
Please note that Harpo Productions, Inc., OWN: Oprah Winfrey Network, Discovery Communications LLC and their affiliated companies and entities have no affiliation with and do not endorse those entities, projects, or websites referenced above, which are provided solely as a courtesy. You should conduct your own independent investigation before using the services of any such entities, projects, or websites. Information is provided for your reference only.