I have to partially disagree with Ed (and Heywood) here.* Not on the galling aesthetics of texting or Twittering, no indeed. I’ve never even read anything on Twitter, let alone used it, and I’ve never sent a text message — what, as if having instant electronic mail and a tiny phone you carry everywhere isn’t fast enough for all your communication needs? Regular readers know my opinion on the amount of care and attention that should be devoted to email correspondence. And I’ve had eleven people shot for not being able to tell the difference between “they’re”, “their” and “there”! So, with my literary snob bona fides firmly established, let us move along.
I think it was reading The Lexicographer’s Dilemma by Jack Lynch that softened my attitude on this sort of thing. To wit:
Once again, traditionalists see in these messages a society on the verge of collapse — young people can’t spell, they don’t know grammar, they don’t know punctuation! But this misses the point entirely. Yes, the writers of these things violate the rules of spelling, grammar and punctuation — but they do so intentionally. The comic effect comes not from an ignorance of the rules, but from a willful flouting of the rules. If the authors and their audience didn’t know what proper grammar and spelling were, those passages would lose all their force. In a way, playful lolcatters and texters aren’t ignoring the traditional rules of English; they’re depending on the existence of those rules in order to raise a laugh.
Crystal’s summary is probably the wisest take on the whole phenomenon of extravagantly nonstandard English in electronic forums. “Some people dislike texting,” he says. “Some are bemused by it. But it is merely the latest manifestation of the human ability to be linguistically creative and and to adapt language to suit the demands of diverse settings. There is no disaster pending. We will not see a new generation of adults growing up unable to write proper English. The language as a whole will not decline. In texting, what we are seeing, in a way, is language in evolution.”
There’s much more, of course, including plenty of humbling reminders that words and spellings and abbreviations we take completely for granted today as standard and proper were once similarly bemoaned as linguistic barbarities. I remember rules I was taught in seventh grade English that are pretty much obsolete now and would make me look bizarre if I employed them, and I remember some that I choose to pointedly ignore, such as the dispute over commas and periods inside quotation marks. Point being, I like to think I have at least an above-average facility with written words, but I’m sure a professional editor would find all sorts of things to cover with red ink on this blog. Who really cares as long as you get my meaning?
But I repeat: I’m not arguing that text messages or lol-speak are equal to well-crafted prose, obviously not. I’m just saying that most of those kids probably know better, and if they don’t, they’ll probably learn enough to get by, so relax already. Speaking of which: how much clear writing ability are any of us going to need when we’re all working as slaves on Chinese robot farms? I mean, I’d personally love it if we all wrote and spoke like modern-day Shakespeares, but let’s be real: most people just don’t need that ability in order to succeed in the business world, which is increasingly the only one that mattters.
So it comes to personal taste, then, and like I said, I shudder at the sight of misspelled words and random, erratic punctuation and capitalization myself. I guess I’ve just gotten to a point where it’s not worth the energy to pull my hair out over it anymore. Of course there are countless dolts out there with mundane thoughts and near-illegible ways of expressing them, but when has it ever been otherwise? I’m not usually known for optimism, but it seems like the glass can easily be half-full if you want: mass education and technology have helped create more good writers than at any other time in history. And as much as I’d love to believe otherwise, bitter experience does not show me any solid connection between a person’s writing and thinking. Too many people can do one but not the other. Being able to construct a grammatically correct sentence does not necessarily imply an equal ability to think logically, or even sanely. Different parts of the brain involved, I suppose.
As for Twitter itself, it seems to me that the problem is the fact that someone felt it to be a necessary invention in the first place, not the fact that people have to come up with inventive shorthand to stay below the 140-character limit. Again, I say, complain about the fact that the pace of modern life is out of control and always mindlessly speeding up if you want to complain about something threatening to our civilization, not the cosmetic ways people attempt to adapt to it.
*I’m only addressing the parts of their posts regarding language and technology. As for She Who Shall Not Be Named, I couldn’t care less what she said or how she said it. Her phenomenon, such as it is, has been exhaustively mined for all symbolism and significance, and seeing as how she seems content to remain a poli-celebrity, unlikely to bother with actually running for office again, I don’t see any point in continuing to pay her undeserved attention. Yes, she’s the avatar of fucking idiocy in this great nation of ours, but that constituency has always been with us and always will be. She just happens to be a charismatic, photogenic expression of it. There’s really not much more to say about it.