Sunday, April 28, 2013

Let Your Fingers Do the Talking

John McWhorter:

Texting has long been bemoaned as the downfall of the written word, “penmanship for illiterates,” as one critic called it. To which the proper response is LOL. Texting properly isn’t writing at all — it’s actually more akin to spoken language. And it’s a “spoken” language that is getting richer and more complex by the year.

...In the old days, we didn’t much write like talking because there was no mechanism to reproduce the speed of conversation. But texting and instant messaging do — and a revolution has begun. It involves the brute mechanics of writing, but in its economy, spontaneity and even vulgarity, texting is actually a new kind of talking. There is a virtual cult of concision and little interest in capitalization or punctuation. The argument that texting is “poor writing” is analogous, then, to one that the Rolling Stones is “bad music” because it doesn’t use violas. Texting is developing its own kind of grammar and conventions.

Currently, in the panopticon of the social web, not maintaining a presence on social networking sites is liable to earn you anything from for-your-own-good finger-wagging to accusations of psychopathy. I have a few friends who occasionally pester me to communicate with them through Facebook or LinkedIn. But the basic truth of McWhorter's observation raises a new possibility — now, I can explain my refusal to participate in everything from texting to tweeting as having taken a vow of silence, the spiritual overtones of which should hopefully inspire a respectful (blessed) silence from those otherwise incapable of shutting the hell up.