So, as we become “scanners” of content in this Web 2.0 world, what will happen to language?  As we use SMS and Twitter, bound by 140 characters, will the use of h@x0r and L33t-style words go beyond these contexts and into other modes of communications {such as e-mails and reports}?  

Maria Bartiromo-CNBC & Tickers
Maria Bartiromo-CNBC & Tickers












Already, there’s a shorthand one needs to “decode” on the TV tickers for news, finance {above}, weather, and sports.  Will technology reduce our written language to a lowest-common denominator?  Will a linguistic Idiocracy set in, where those with good written communication skills die off, leaving the rest of us thumbing abbreviations and smileys on handhelds :-P?


Additionally, are we losing our capacity to read, in an “educated” citizen of society sense?  Linguist, Naomi Baron studies technology as it relates to the evolution of language.  She warns of the implications of this and offered this observation in a 2005 LA Times article::

“Has written culture recently taken a nose drive? These are the students who grew up on Spark Notes, the popular study guides. Many of this generation are aliteratethey know how to read but don’t choose to. And abridgment of texts is now taken to extremes, with episodes from micro-novels being sent as text messages on cell phones…

Will effortless random access erode our collective respect for writing as a logical, linear process? Such respect matters because it undergirds modern education, which is premised on thought, evidence and analysis rather than memorization and dogma. Reading successive pages and chapters teaches us how to follow a sustained line of reasoning.

If we approach the written word primarily through search-and-seizure rather than sustained encounter-and-contemplation, we risk losing a critical element of what it means to be an educated, literate society. “–“Killing the written word by snippets” (11/28/05) {Emphasis added}

What about those emoticons?  Used to clarify meanings in text-based environments, are these shorthand shortcuts impoverishing our language?  


Or, are they just transforming how we communicate?  For example, you can be as blunt or brutal as possible, but if you follow it with a wink or a “smiley,” it plants tongue firmly in cheek.  You get your digs in, but soften the blow.  Is this playing in to the development of a passive-aggressive culture or at least a passive-aggressive written culture?  F*** you! 😉

So, in order to be understood, will be be relying more and more on communication shortcuts {text shorthand, graphics, and/or even sound} not just in SMS texting and microblogging Tweets, but in other forms of everyday communication?  I’ve seen people get frustrated with others because their irony or sarcasm wasn’t coming through.  Allow me to reintroduce the irony mark, which has been around since the late 1800s::

The Irony Mark/Point d'ironie

Just in case someone might be overly-literal and might not get the fact that you’re being snarky, your bases are covered.  Looking back on Baron’s quote, the big question for me has to do with the thinking process.  I linger on terms like “logical” and “linear,” as I wonder how much of our communications are moving towards the “emotional” and “hypertextual.”  The emoticon {or other shorthand symbol} and a jumbled mass of linked stream-of-consciousness utterances may be where we’re heading.  I think the thought processes may be increasingly non-linear for more and more people and logic is taking a back seat to perlocutionary acts that try to elicit a response or some kind of action/reaction from others.  This sounds a lot like advertising.  

I offer this.  Will everyday communication be a pastiche of a myriad of verbal/visual snippets?  We scan through incredible amounts of information and gain meaning from “decoding” communications and constructing gestalts.    The linear thought process of decoding and encoding meanings is subsumed by thought processes that cut and mix ideas. 

Using Twitter as an example, take this Tweet by Clay Shirky.  





In under 140 characters he communicates several key points and offers a hyperlink to the source, but without proper sentence structure.  Nevertheless, we can get meaning from his Tweet::  (1) 3% of newspaper reading is done online, (2) cite of blog post on newspaper impressions for print/online, (3) assumption is that readers see 1/2 of the pages, (4) another assumption is that they read all articles, & (5) Clay’s quick analysis.  We combine this information with other information {bricolage} for whatever purpose at hand.  We can use web searches to get this information,  On Twitter, we can look for other information on “newspapers,” using the hashtag:: #newspapers.














Walter Ong in his Orality & Literacy (1982) makes the distinctions between orality {spoken word} and literacy {print}.  Part of me feels that SMS/texting and microblogging {Facebook “graffiti” & Tweeting} represent a hybrid mode, betwixt and between both orality and literacy.  Literacy is assumed, but communications are taking on more of the characteristics of the spoken word.  So, where is all of this heading?  We will communicate in ways where we try to be understood, given the technological and temporal parameters.  I think this will be increasingly distilled.  The technology will evolve towards allowing people to cut and mix text, images, multimedia, sound, etc.  Our use of language and how language enters our consciousness will evolve into new patterns.

These are musings and I welcome rebuttals.  If you use harsh language, I’d prefer you soften the blow with an emoticon or two.  😉 🙂