From Commodore’s christmas demo from 1982, that combines PETSCII and pixel graphics.
An interactive videotex art work, part of A Hummer’s campaign to run for mayor of Toronto, 1982. A Hummer ended up at 2nd place with 10% of the votes. More here.
Scott E Fahlman suggests a use of :) and :( in September, 1982. This happened on a bulletin board at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, USA. It caught on pretty fast, and in November there were already several variations.
There are many earlier examples of smilies, but this is likely what popularized emoticons as we know them today.
In November 1981 in UK, Kenneth Baker, the Minister for Information Technology, proclaimed 1982 as “Information Technology Year, IT-82.” to support for the use of IT, like teletext and viewdata. Via