Online etiquette: How to be charming in an era of apps.

Charm Offensive

Millennials Are Horrible at Being Charming Online. Solution No. 1: More Emojis.

Charm Offensive

Millennials Are Horrible at Being Charming Online. Solution No. 1: More Emojis.
Notes from the fashion apocalypse.
March 27 2015 12:54 PM

Charm Offensive


Engaging emojis and other points of digital charm.


Photo illustration by Lisa Larson-Walker. Photos by Thinkstock

Do you have digital charm? Is there such a thing? No, I am not talking about doing attractive things with your fingers, even though doing attractive things with your fingers can be very charming. Why, only the other day I was captivated by a YouTube video of a bloke named P’nut doing this new (to me) thing called Tutting (as in King Tut), which is kind of like voguing, but just for the fingers. Very charming, yes, but that’s not the type of digital charm of which I write today.

Simon Doonan Simon Doonan

Simon Doonan is an author, fashion commentator, and creative ambassador for Barneys New York.

I am talking about the screeching, glaring absence of charm on the electronic superhighway, the interweb, Whatever you choose to call it, you have to admit, the online world is a charm-free zone. Cat videos and Candy Crush Saga are about as close as it gets to charm. It’s mostly naff, and when it’s not being naff, it’s being homicidally vituperative, and that’s just me emailing my husbear about how we should cook the Brussels sprouts for dinner. Clearly it’s time for an online charm-olution. Let’s make charm the new hate. Why? Because flowers are objectively more appealing than dog poop, and life is short, and excuse me, but what else have you got going on? Nothing much if you are reading this article.

I propose we start by bringing back that old standby, the calming euphemism. The Internet, in case you haven’t noticed, has a penchant for outsized reactions. Alarm, scorn, rage, terror; these are the lingua franca of the WWW. Whenever controversy or catastrophe strikes—my SoulCycle class is totes sold out!—screen-centered millennials clutch their pearls and let forth a stream of OMG overly honest Facebook posts; texts; and bold-faced, exclamation-laced emails, thereby making eventualities both big and small seem a billion times worse. In the past this was never the case.


In the pre-Internet world, reactions were muted, tentative, and wrapped in calming euphemisms. Shit-storms were neutralized with Maggie Smith–ian understatement. Why? Because all communication was taking place in person, and if you and your catastrophic tidings caused somebody to have a seizure, you would be the one administering mouth to mouth. As a result, the ability to deny impending doom and to repackage an unqualified disaster as “a bump in the road” was once considered vital for social and professional success. So let’s ditch the OMGs and bring back that dignified, euphemistic denial.

Next topic: folderol. Today’s young moderns may be unable to moderate their reactions to life’s unforeseen challenges, but when it comes to making simple requests, they, paradoxically, become incomprehensibly formal and reticent. Sample email:

How are you? Haven’t seen you in such a long time. Hoping you’re managing to stay warm during all this sleet and snow and getting some quiet time with all your nearest and dearest—so important at this time of year—wherever they may be. We have all become so global and think nothing of hopping on a plane, but all the same it’s hard when family support is flung to the far corners of the Earth, many of which are also experiencing their fair share of bad weather. Anyhow, the reason I am emailing you … [incredibly mundane request follows]

The impulse to preface a simple ask with reams of folderol is a commendable attempt to deploy charm, but it fails miserably and is counterproductive to the goals of the folderoller. Trust me, the recipients are screaming the words You crazy bastard/bitch, just spit it out!!! while reading your faux-genteel preamble. They would be much more likely to comply with your request if you just stripped away the doilies.


And now, about compliments. Everyone loves them, or rather used to, back before they were outlawed. One is now terrified to give them, especially online where they live forever and can be accessed at a later date and used as evidence against one. The same person who will dole out the are-you-managing-to-stay-warm folderol will, because of fear of harassment lawsuits, be very reluctant to hurl a full-throated compliment in your direction on Facebook or via email. This is a tragic situation that needs to be rectified. However, in order to dole out a digital compliment—lacking the nuances that come with spoken delivery, online compliments are always more prone to sinister interpretation—it’s important to avoid anything that might read as creepy.

Example of a creepy compliment: You have a heavenly aura. I would like to see you riding a unicorn bareback through a field of sprouted onions.

Example of a charming compliment: For an older broad/dude, you sure have kept it together. Just sayin’.

Which brings us to Tinder and sexting and all that shagadelic stuff. While I am an expert Instagrammer—follow me at simon_doonan—and find it to be a benign and frivolous medium, I confess I have no familiarity with the ever-widening erotic social media landscape. Is it possible to introduce charm into these new and naughty methods of courtship? I am unqualified to opine. Calling all sexy sexters! Any tips for up-charming Please enlighten me, and other readers, with your sassiest do’s and don’ts in the comment box.

Chapter One
Conversation Skills
Chapter Two
Personal Style
Chapter Three
Cubicle Chic
Chapter Four
Domestic Cheer
Chapter Five
Digital Charm & Conclusions

Whether sexy or sedate, by far the easiest way to add a little charm to your daily communications is by tap dancing on your emoji buttons, and when I say tap dancing, I really mean clog dancing. Emojis have megacharm, but only if used clunkily and ineptly. Slick, efficient emoji use is not charming. I discovered this accidentally. Having no real understanding of what the various emojis signified, I would just send the colorful ones that caught my eye. I was especially fond of that pretty pink one—a cleavage? a ’90s Alexander McQueen bumster butt-crack trouser?—and pasted it willy-nilly. The recipients were delighted because they assumed they were being panted at (turns out it’s a panting tongue), or that I was an idiot, or both.

Another tip: Don’t be literal. Sending the hospital emoji to somebody who is undergoing a procedure is gruesomely uncharming. A sick person would far rather receive one of my signature enigmatic-but-jolly random emoji combos. Who doesn’t love a warthog coupled with an exploding party hat? What could be more charming?

* * *

So there you have it. The End. My charm offensive has now charmed up all aspects of your life. Let’s briefly recap the key points:

Charm is a paper lantern, a smoky eye, a jaunty chapeau, or a pair of blood-red fishnets … and that’s just for the men. (Charm is making the old and that’s-just-the-men joke over and over again until your audience is begging for mercy.) Charm is underdecorating like Holly Golightly. Charm is democratic because charm is cheap.

Charm is also talking not squawking (women) and declaiming not mumbling (men). Charm is popping up out of your seat and conversing directly with the person in the next cubicle. Charm helps you win friends and neutralize enemies.

Above all else, remember that charm is sustainable. It is not finite. Think of it as a bargain-priced, bottomless tub of marshmallow fluff. So take flight and flit from person to person, depositing little glistening, sugary dollops of charm wherever you go.