cyberspacial musings
bits about the real and virtual worlds

02 Mar

Can you read this?

Reuters reports on a 13-year old British girl who turned in an essay written in texting shorthand, the abbreviated and phonetic code used when sending SMS messages on cell phones. The British instructor couldn’t understand what appeared to be a coded message and the cell phone texting was craze berated as a something causing a decline in literacy.

Or is it really? Throughout history, language has evolved along with society. George Orwell in 1984 created many compound and abbreviated words to show this evolution (e.g. miniwar for the Ministry of War, “doublethink”). The word “okay” was the subject of an NPR piece not long ago, describing how that word evolved and what the origins might be. We continuously change nouns into verbs as modern tools become integrated into our culture (William Gibson’s new book “Pattern Recognition” uses the name “Google” as a verb within the first few pages of the book). Is it too hard to believe that texting won’t eventually begin to change the way we write?

Our language will continue to evolve as the tools we use change the way we work as well as the way we communicate. Certainly the telephone changed our long distance communications from that of well thought out, lengthy letters to the brief conversations that might occur if we were face to face. E-mail has also changed the way we communicate, causing the emergence of emoticons and unusual punctuation (e.g. _underlining_ and SHOUTING). Similarly, instant messaging and chat have evolved a new, brief set of communications (BRB — be right back, ROTFL — rolling on the floor laughing). Space constrained SMS is no different.

The unusual thing about this article is the lack of awareness of the 13-year old to switch to a different communications mode when the medium changed. But that’s not absurdly unusual. How many articles or papers have you read that felt more “conversational”? Do you e-mails sound more like things you would have said out loud or are they more like well thought out letters? How poor has your spelling gotten since your word processor tells you what you misspell?

We are continuously being changed by the tools around us. Perhaps it won’t be long B4 blogs R in txtng 2.

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