Hello Texting and Goodbye English

Lots of comments have been made about the dangers of texting, as demonstrated by the statistics from the National Safety Council that 28% of accidents are caused by texting motorists, so I won't rehash these old arguments. Instead, let The Geezer Geek take a look at the catastrophic effect that ‘texting' has had on our culture (and I use THAT word with some reservation).

"hw r u?"

"whassup?"

"roflmao"

"me 2"

"ILU" (and can you imagine the wasted bandwidth that THIS particular one is going to take up on this "Hallmark Day" of February 14th?)

"wht r u up 2 2nite?"

Now, I realize that spelling and grammar are no longer requirements of any American public school, especially here in Texas where they only ‘teach to the TAKS test' anyhow, but this is the thin end of the wedge with regards to civilization. English is arguably the most powerful language on earth. Based on the confluence of multiple European language influences and accompanied by the bizarre spelling decisions of William Caxton, we have a multitude of nouns, verbs and adjectives suitable for every occasion, but do we use them? Do we use the language of Shakespeare, the vocabulary of Churchill or the creativity of Mark Twain? No we don't, not anymore.

We appear to have lost what little ability to actually spell and speak correctly that we ever had, and now we are reduced to supposedly humorous acronyms and abbreviations that are, all of a sudden, thought of as ‘modern speak'. Well, let us not forget that SNAFU and FUBAR and SWALK can be traced back some 70 years or more, so we are hardly the first generation to come up with this manner of communication and affront to the language ... but we are the first to abuse it so completely.

Bloggers are essentially frustrated authors with a genuine affection for the English language and so my views on this may seem extreme, but someone has to draw a line in the sand when it comes to language. I ranted a few weeks ago about ‘social networking' and its ANTIsocial networking connotations, and texting is merely an extension of this trend. It is apparent that people would nowadays much rather text someone than speak to them on the telephone, and this is losing the essential nature of human communication. Simplistically, there are three levels of interpersonal communication: writing to someone, speaking to them on the telephone or speaking to them face to face. One study alone from UCLA by Professor Albert Mehrabian, indicates that up to 93% of communication effectiveness is determined by nonverbal cues. While this study is frequently misinterepreted, we can ONLY get a complete understanding of what someone means if we are actually in the same place as them, looking them in the eye when we speak. The telephone at least gives us tonality and verbal feedback, but texting does nothing but cause confusion.

The early days of e-mail did LOTS of damage to personal and business relationships as people tried to be humorous in their e-mails, but were totally misinterpreted. Sarcasm only works if the recipient can see the twinkle in your eye or at least hear the lilt in your voice when you make the comment. Over time, e-mails have become more ubiquitous in their content as people at least tend to use full sentences and reasonably correct English, and so some of the initial ‘sting' has been taken out. However, when you get a text that says "whr r u?" it is open to so many misunderstandings, one hardly knows where to start? "Where are you (idiot)?" "Where are you (my love, I miss you)?" "Where are you (the house is burning down)?" "Where are you (I am waiting here with the client and he is mad because you are late)?" and a myriad of other meanings, all equally valid depending upon the recipient's state of mind at the time. There seems to be a competition as to who can produce the shortest text with the most misinterpretation options.

Let's conclude this rant by taking one final quick knock at Twitter. (I shall, of course, be devoting a whole, future blog to this particular miscreant) Now, with the wonderful, waste-of-time creation of a ‘tweet', one can not only bore and offend just the one person you previously texted, but you can bore and offend many people at the same time. It is possible to inform thousands of people of the fact that you are "goin 2 mall will b bck bi 7" and so long as you can restrict yourself to 140 characters, you can bore and offend the whole world! How can one fail to restrict oneself to 140 characters when "I 8 bfast @ 9" will be understood by all your recipients? Of course, those same undereducated recipients will be lost if you quote " ... we few, we happy few, we band of brothers". We may have gained a tweet, but we have lost our cultural soul.

Now, I realize that the ‘texting' boat has left the dock, and no amount of curmudgeonly complaining or Geezer Geek groans will bring it back, but can we at least commit to some simple rules?

  1. NO acronyms
  2. NO spelling errors
  3. NO sarcasm (hmmm...THIS one is going to be tough for me)

Probably not ... ah well, I give up ... "bfn, c u l8r"

Glyn Meek, with 40 years of experience in the technology industry, has earned his curmudgeonly outlook.

This story, "Hello Texting and Goodbye English" was originally published by Computerworld.

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