I wouldn't call them a crutch at all. Many a time have I used the :-P emoticon to convey sarcasm/jest, or the =) smiley to illustrate that I am smiling in merriment or happiness as I make a statement.

So what if authors have been writing clear sentences withough smileys for years? They have the liberty of writing statments such as:

"Oh, right... you're gonna climb Mt. Everest tomorrow," Jack said incredulously.

They have the ability to tack extra modifiers onto a sentence that don't actually come across in spoken language to convey the extra emotion.


Also, in today's world of short attention spans and Internet time, smileys/emoticons save a lot of time when trying to convey feelings/emotions. A simple :-) as a replacement for "Hey, that's pretty cool!" is quite desirable, in my opinion.