Atrophic Communication: The impact of technology on language

February 16, 2009 // Posted in Culture  

The language we use sets a standard of expectation which is adhered to by those we communicate with.  I’ve noticed that as we are given more avenues to communicate with each other, the expectation of quality in our communication is changed and often times reduced.  Or, “t3h Qw/\L17y 0v ur 1337$p33k iz pWnd n00b!!!111!11eleven kekeke”

Lolcats

Lolcats

Over the years I’ve become inundated with tools of communication.  I currently use text messaging, text messaging based social networking services, multiple email addresses, I’m on several mailing lists, another half dozen or so social networking websites, I have a mailing address and a telephone.  In my experience, this is relatively common, especially in metropolitan areas.
As time is often considered as “the ultimate luxury,” these services were developed as a means to save time in some way or another.  The downside of having so many avenues of communication is that people begin to expect instant responses.  In the interest of time and ergonomics, people will take shortcuts in their communications.  I’ve seen vowels removed as well as substituting glyphs, letters and numbers as homophonic replacements for words.  For example, “at” becomes “@” and “later” becomes “l8r.”
We’ve all had the experience of meaning being “lost in translation” in emails and text messages.  Tone of voice, body language and facial expressions are lost.  As communication is compressed into fewer and fewer characters, people begin to rely on their audience understanding what they mean and not what they say.

As language is like a muscle that needs to be used to stay fit, not striving to say exactly what we mean causes our linguistic ability to atrophy.
In her book, “Eats, Shoots & Leaves ” Lynne Truss says:

“In the 1970s, no educationist would have predicted the explosion in universal written communication caused by the personal computer, the internet and the key-pad of the mobile phone. But now, look what’s happened: everyone’s a writer! Everyone is posting film reviews on Amazon that go like this:

‘I watched this film [About a Boy] a few days ago expecting the usual hugh Grant bumbling … character Ive come to loathe/expect over the years. I was thoroughly suprised. This film was great, one of the best films i have seen in a long time. The film focuses around one man who starts going to a single parents meeting, to meet women, one problem He doesnt have a child.’

Isn’t this sad? People who have been taught nothing about their own language are (contrary to educational expectations) spending all their leisure hours attempting to string sentences together for the edification of others. And there is no editing on the internet! Meanwhile, in the world of text messages, ignorance of grammar and punctuation obviously doesn’t affect a person’s ability to communicate messages such as “C U later”. But if you try anything longer, it always seems to turn out much like the writing of the infant Pip in Great Expectations:

‘MI DEER JO I OPE U R KRWITE WELL I OPE I SHAL SON B HABELL 4 2 TEEDGE U JO AN THEN WE SHORL B SO GLODD AN WEN I M PRENGTD 2 U JO WOT LARX AN BLEVE ME INF XN PIP.'”

If people are treated like animals, they will act like animals.  If adults are treated like children, they will act like children.  If children are treated like adults they will act like adults.  We rise or fall to the standards of expectation established by ourselves and those around us.

xkcd.com

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Comments (5)

  • Adam says:

    So what do you think? Is this a new phenomenon or simply the same one of each generation altering the previous generations standards of communication? If it’s the latter, then does it represent an exponential increase in the rate of linguistic change in the same way our technology curve has exploded?

  • The phenomenon of language adapting to its environment is not new, but the proliferation of communication paths often dilutes the clarity of communication. The rate of change is not something that I have information on but it is something that I would be interested in learning more about. What do you think?

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  • Nafrat says:

    SmartNotebook9.7英文版,確實是可以自由以滑鼠使用,否則SMART不必要大方的讓人下載,而且它已聲明使用限制了,只要不用在「competitive products」就可以了。但是這樣的免費試用能持續到何時就不得而知了。但千萬不要以SmartNotebook9.7直接搭配Wiimote電子白板使用,一定要叮嚀老師們以Viewer來上課,這是完全合法的。自由軟體很難能做到像商業軟體那麼好,期待教科書商能改進電子白板教材,增加讓老師自由編輯的功能。阿誠 Reply:六月 24th, 2009 at 11:55 下午陳老師您好:不管是9.5、9.7或10版,SmartNotebook的下載頁面都標示著Please note that SMART Notebook Software is petitrmed only for use on SMART products. Use of the SMART Notebook Software is subject to the terms and conditions of the Software End User License Agreement.應該不是「只要不用在 competitive products 就可以了」那麼寬鬆。Smart Notebook 可以在沒有連接白板的狀態下使用,但不表示這麼做符合他們的版權聲明,當學校沒有任何SMART的產品時,真的說不出Yes, we only use the SMART Notebook Software on SMART products.

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