Technologies work in curious ways.
The surface magic sometimes conceals sinister currents.
The way we speak to each other, the way we write to each other and the way we exchange messages and ideas - all of these are shifting. In many ways these changes represent progress, but there is also a dark side that is rarely noticed or mentioned. It is easy to surrender to the trendy, the new and the popular without questioning value.
One ominous trend is the potential thinning or lessening of warmth, content and consideration brought on by text messaging. Abbreviation alternates with voluminous chit-chat as the order of the day.
The ease and speed of connectedness is both a blessing and a curse.
We can dash off a line in text to a distant friend and know it will circle the globe in nanoseconds. We can call when stuck in traffic. We can post pictures of a new grandchild on the Web. We can read strong opinions on blogs that would never make it to the mainstream media. We can subscribe to email newsletters that illuminate, and we can enjoy podcasts by remarkable people as we jog along through a forest.
These are blessings, for sure, but sometimes we sacrifice quality for convenience. Dashing, rushing and chatting can dilute the depth and thoughtfulness of the communication.
We may find one liners replacing carefully crafted paragraphs or even pages of text. Niceties and sensibilities often suffer as compression trumps style and subtlety.
Messaging vs. Dialogue
During the past ten years or so, messaging has begun to eclipse dialogue as a way to communicate. Ironically, cell phones make it easy to chat endlessly with good friends at the same time messaging has allowed screening and distancing from others who are less favored.
In many cities you will see drivers and strollers with cell phones glued to ears.
Stuck in traffic and alone in a car? The cell phone allows connectedness when isolation threatens.
In some cities walkers plunge ahead while text messaging at high speed. Not so long ago this level of contact was unimaginable.
The business traveller relies on a mobile phone to report movements:
- "We just landed."
- "We're approaching the gate."
- "I'm heading down to baggage now."
- "I'm on the rental van."
- "I'm getting into the rental car."
- "I am heading North on the Interstate."
- "What's up?"
Blah Blah Blah
Some of this exchange is trivial chatter. Some of it is vital and intense.
- "I'm stuck on a plane that will be delayed so that I miss my connection. What can you do to protect me?"
- "We're stuck in traffic and the baby is coming any moment now. Can you send a helicopter to get us?"
At the same time these kinds of contacts have multiplied dramatically, a large share now represent the leaving of messages rather than dialogue. Some people never answer their home phones, especially at night, wary of telemarketers or fund raisers. Caller ID gives us the power to downgrade a caller to mere messaging status. Although we may answer the phone for special people, many others are effectively shunned.
How is dialogue different? What do we lose with messaging? The advantage of good dialogue is the chemistry of interaction - the back and forth, real time consideration of ideas that allows for construction, development and insight. In contrast, messaging usually amounts to the leaving or dropping off of ideas or beliefs. Messaging may support less productive weaving and synergy.
While we joke about this experience, it is a symptom of social and cultural shifts brought on by the new technologies. If we hunger for a real conversation, why is it so hard to reach people when we need them? Given the impressive array of new tools, how could it be so frustrating?
It is easy to shrug off this phenomenon by blaming it on busy lives and busy people, but there is more to it than that.
Some people restrict their cell phones for personal use and a narrow group of friends with whom they wish to be perpetually connected. They may answer their cell during a meal in a restaurant if a special friend calls and then sit chatting while their dinner companion is ignored. This same person may be hard to reach through their work or other land lines - the ones they share with those outside the inner circle.
The Blunt One Liner
Text messaging gives birth to very short messages.
Niceties are eliminated
Nuance is throttled.
Elegance is sacrificed.
In contrast, poetry is a short form that provides richness and intensity while a text message is rarely poetic or lyrical. It is most often dashed off with little thought or attention to style. A poem is a heavily reduced, flavorful sauce. Text messages are most often thin and watery, leaving much to the imagination.
Acronyms and abbreviations abound . . .
- ADIP = Another Day In Paradise
- CRTLA = Can't Remember the Three-Letter Acronym
- DILLIGAD = Do I Look Like I Give A Damn
- GMTFT = Great Minds Think For Themselves
- ILICISCOMK = I Laughed, I Cried, I Spat/Spilt Coffee/Crumbs/Coke On My Keyboard
- Source: List of Acronyms & Text Messaging Shorthand at NetLingo
"R U OK?"
The Age of Glib
In previous articles, FNO has warned of trends toward superficiality and glib production as new technologies have made it easy to scoop, smush and flash. Note article, "The Mind Candy Kafe"
- Does this Mind Candy Kafe presage the arrival of an Age of Glib?
- If students always surf along the surface, will they ever learn to think for themselves?
Will they settle for the sound bites, the mind bytes, the eye candy and the mind candy offered up by the media like sticks of chewing gum?
Or will they develop a healthy skepticism about the information (and noise) streaming past them?
In many cases, the mountains of information combine to obscure meaning and delay the search for understanding. Without a dramatic commitment to the teaching (and practice) of information literacy skills in school, our students will be ill prepared to find their way.
Blogs are a mixed blessing.
At their best, blogs deliver startling information that might otherwise never reach us through traditional media. Some bloggers write with style and careful thought. Their blogs are essays posted for general consumption in ways that circumvent traditional circulation and publication channels. As such, they do the society a service, widening and (in some cases) deepening the public discourse.
At their worst, blogs are blather.
Not everyone has opinions or prose worth reading. MySpace makes it easy for everyone to post their own blogging, much of which is nothing more than bloggery.
- Bloggery - Blather and boring comments that some blogger enters in a blog without much thought, consideration or style. Blah Blah Blah posing as meaningful commentary.
Example: "Her newspaper columns are much better than her blog which slips into bloggery of the worst kind."
As with many technology fads, the proliferation of blogs is impressive in the early stages, but once the first blush has passed, other issues arise.
- Is there anything worth reading?
- Where do we find the time to read so many pages of first hand, rambling comments?
- How much chit chat and blather can the human mind tolerate?
- What is the importance of style, content and thoughtfulness?
- What are the dangers of posting private thoughts?
- When do blogs cross over the line into slander and harassment?
- When is a blog a blog and when is it an article pretending to be a blog?
Most importantly, if no one reads a blog other than its author and one or two relatives and friends, does it really exist? How does it rank in contrast to graffiti that may be seen by hundreds?
Return to June cover page.