May 28

 

I'll readily admit that as tech savvy as I like to pretend I am, the one thing that pretty much passed me by is the whole text-messaging craze which is now, well, way beyond the craze stage and into ridiculous fetishism (yeah, go abbreviate that shiznit!).  Initially my objection was basically focused on the interface–watch people try to work on their computers with an instant messenger program up and you'll laugh (or cry) as they get inundated with hundreds of messages from ten, twenty, thirty or more people all asking pretty pointless questions.  I'll admit the multitasking is pretty crazy from these people–I'm not sure how they can keep ten separate conversations in the head going even via written chat, but they're obviously doing it–but still, it's got to be pretty overwhelming.  When I log on I usually don't want to be bothered…but when someone sends a "'sup? :) " message, how do you turn it down (I mean he's smiling at you, for Christ's sake!)?  You guessed it, kids: that pleasant little noise you hear is the sound of productive work getting flushed straight down the toilet.

Still, all of this is about setting boundaries, right?  I can just shut the thing down.  But lots of habitual text-messengers can't or won't do the same–they'd rather leave up crazy away messages ("Listenin' to Floyd, meet you on the dark side of the moon laters") so their friends won't get too freaked out, and as a result we've got bandwidth usage way up and actually getting things done way down.  That too wouldn't bother me if the conversations really made a difference–but for whatever reason, people have conversations online they wouldn't even want to have on the phone:

Cutiegyrl17: 'sup.  Goin later?

PLAYA4LiFe: ya

Cutiegyrl17: what ru doin' now?

PLAYA4LiFe: nothin

Cutiegyrl17: lol, yeah u r 

PLAYA4LiFe:  wtf, no

Cutiegyrl17: :(

I mean it's scintillating, sure, but does it really sing to you? /sarcasmoff

But fine, you say–you're not a college freshman, so don't have conversations like that one.  Talk about absurdist art instead (actually I think Dali would be really into IM convos…or pretend to be, anyway).  But even then, the issue is how easy it is for people to throw away time like it's going out of style on this kind of banter–or worse, how easy it is for people to carry the banter over.  Because it's spreading, my friends, and I have no idea how to stop it.  Never mind E-mails I get from students with ":), ru done with my grde yt?  tnks"–and no, I'm not making that up.  It's gotten to the point where this stuff is showing up in formal papers.  Now I'm not trying to be a stickler, but there is something a trifle offputting about seeing students say Hamlet must be thinking "what's wrong with u?" in the nunnery scene with Ophelia (although an IM conversation with DenMarkPRINCE is an appealing thought).  Confront a student with the, er, inappropriateness of this particular register of speech and you'll normally get a blank stare or, occasionally, an apologetic shrug.  "I'm kind of used to it," one told me.  I can't argue; I'm starting to get used to it myself.  The smiley face in particular is pretty hard to avoid.  Got something rather nasty you want to say but without sounding like too much of an !%@hole?  Just add :) afterwards, and hey presto: instant joke.  (How can you be offended?  She's smiling at you, for Christ's sake!)       

On one level, of course, this is simply part of a linguistic process which has been going on a long, long time.  The simplification of language, when it's not offset by other factors (cultural considerations and identifications, the need to describe and define new things, etc.) is a constant in human history.  And I don't agree with the current conventional wisdom that "young people hate to read and write."  If the text message phenomenon proves anything, it's that the written word is more intriguing and engaging than ever.  The question is what registers of literacy our young people know: can they shift gears from "LOLZ" to "endlessly amusing" without divine intervention?  Can they be as comfortable writing organized analytical essays as they are juggling ten conversations with Cutiegyrl17 and friends?  And, even more importantly, can we figure out how to make them comfortable with the former if we can't understand the latter?

The optimist in me says we can.  The pessimist says Oh Noes.  Stay tuned over the next twenty years for the final verdict.

RewriteReality72: u think?  :) 

PLAYA4LiFe: wtf, whatev

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