A seismic shift is going on in our society, and a recent article in the NY Times brought this issue into focus for me. The Times highlighted several contemporary writers who are setting their novels in the “near future” (i.e. 2025 to 2035). In the spirit of George Orwell (who in 1949 published the futuristic novel 1984) and of Stanley Kubrick and Arthur C. Clarke (who in 1968 produced the film 2010: A Space Odyssey), these writers are giving us a glimpse of our society as it may become. Taking emerging trends in today’s world and projecting them into the future, they can help us weigh the impact and perhaps test the consequences of the innovative spirit of our time. One of the trends identified in these novels is the impact that text messaging will have on our use of language in the future. As a person who does a good bit of writing and who always has a dictionary open on the desk next to me so that I can check the spelling and weight the nuances of word meanings, this really caught my attention.
Text messaging clearly is a generational matter. My wife and I are on a family communication plan together with two of our daughters and one son-in-law. My wife and I have separate cells phones and have cut out our land line—pretty innovative stuff for our generation. One of our daughters and her husband have included text messaging in their part of our family plan, and they get by pretty well each month on their allowance of 250 text messages each. Our other daughter has unlimited text messaging in her part of the family plan. She not only sends text messages, but she frequently sends pictures and videos in messages. Last month she sent over 1500 messages.
While visiting our other daughter before Christmas, she commented that her son (who happens to be turning 14 today) only talked on his cell phone for about 20 minutes last month but sent almost 10,000 text messages. Do you sense the trend here? And with that trend comes a whole new language full of abbreviations and short-cuts that frankly I find quite confusing.
I’ve noticed on Facebook that the texting short-cuts are creeping into posted messages. I’ve tried to decipher some of these by weighing the context in which they were used. At first I thought “lol” meant “lots of luck” because it seemed to have a whimsical quality to it. On occasion I have thought someone was saying “lots of love” as a kind of affectionate sign-off. Then I discovered it meant “laughing out loud,” which I sometime find hard to understand in the context in which it is used. The real shocker came recently when a very accomplished writer with whom I have worked a lot through the years began substituting “u r” and similar abbreviations in her Facebook posts. This brought me back to the futuristic novel and the certainty that our written language and our whole system of communication is shifting quickly.
I’ve reluctantly decided that this shift is OK. The emphasis on spelling and grammar are important parts of clear communication; but frankly I’ve decided that communication is the objective, and spelling and grammar are the vehicles. We may be in the midst of shifting vehicles. Oral communication, video communication, and text messaging may replace the classical expressions of the written word. I will have to learn this new language in order to survive, just like an immigrant has to adapt to the language of a new culture.
In the spirit of the season, I also have concluded that sometimes and somehow the word must become flesh to really communicate. That is what Christmas is all about, and it is what I must be about as well. Where r u in all this?