I’d like to thank my many readers who so kindly left comments on my recent post, “No Text Please, We’re Parents.” Many of your comments described technophobic experiences with your own parents. Quite a few of you agreed with my parents’ objection to texting as “impersonal.”
More than one comment mentioned that text-based messaging is rendering conversation a lost art. When my parents visited for my birthday last weekend, they agreed, pointing out that abbreviations commonly used in text messages are destroying both written and spoken forms of the English language. By way of example, my mother stated that it grates on her nerves when even radio personalities say “that’s how they do” (omitting the implied “it”). My father cited the deplorable spelling and grammar that he regularly sees in email and on websites.
I tried to point out that any language changes and grows over time, adding new words and changing acceptable forms of grammar and spelling. The English of Chaucer’s fourteenth century works and that of Shakespeare’s early seventeenth century works barely resemble each other, much less modern forms of English.
Every generation seems to bemoan the increasing informality of language embraced by their children. Slang lingo has been a part of teenage culture since the dawn of time. Kids seek to separate themselves from their parents by embracing vocabulary and grammar alien to their elders. There was a time when the words “groovy” and “cool” annoyed adults; when I was growing up, it was considered “hip” to tack the word “man” on to the beginning or end of every sentence. “What’s up, man?” “Man, that sucks.” And then there was the ultimate expression of disgust, disappointment, amazement, sympathy or any other emotion of the moment: “Maaaaaaaaannnn!”
It’s nothing new for parents to believe that their children are destroying the English language. And yet English soldiers on.
As for abbreviations, I fail to see much difference between today’s CUL8R or ILY and yesteryear’s SWAK and XYZ (“sealed with a kiss” and “check your zipper”). And it is easy to forget that keystroke-saving abbreviations were rampant on the internet long before text messaging came into vogue. When I first got online in the mid-1990s, I had to acculturate myself to a whole lexicon of BRBs, IMHOs and FWIWs. These have found their way into the spoken language; I’ve heard people say “imho” and I myself have been known to say “bee ar bee!”
It is my belief that text messaging, both the kind on cell phones and the kind on the internet, brings people together rather than separating them. Any form of language that makes it easier for people to communicate is, in my view, a positive development.
And so, I concluded my recent conversation with my parents by telling a story about some text-based communication that I enjoyed on Friday night. In my goofy way, I took a photo of my dinner using my cell phone, typed the word “Yum!” and sent it to my nephews and nieces using SnapChat. Every last one of them responded. These are young people who won’t bother to call me and, likely as not, won’t answer their phones when I call them. If I want to have much of a relationship with them, I need to be able to send and receive text and photos. This is one of the main reasons I procured a cell phone in the first place. So texting or SnapChatting them is my way of saying “I love you” and “I’m thinking of you.”
My niece’s response to my photo was particularly poignant. “I love how you randomly Snap me!” was her text response. We all feel loved when we know we’re thought of, now don’t we?
And if that’s “impersonal,” then I’ll take impersonal any day of the week, man.