The Sad Digitization of the English language

By | Jan 22, 2009

I have commented in the past about the effects of new technologies on our daily lives.  Technological advancement and change have dramatically changed the way we understand the world around us and how we interact with it.  It has also changed how we interact with each other.

Consider the the English language.  Terms like ‘google’ and ‘land line’ are synonymous with a mobile technological age where nearly everyone has access to the internet at almost any time.  As the English language is free to evolve on its own, unlike other languages such as French where new words are introduced by l’Academie Française, these new words enter our vocabulary and influence the way we communicate with each.  Therefore when someone talks about ‘googling themselves’ we do not think  it is a vulgar statement as we would have just a few years ago.  This is a natural process in the English language, but where there is something disconcerting happening is not with regards to what language is used but HOW it is used.  We simply interact with the English language in different ways than in the past.  The English language is not being used as something to be commanded and mastered, but almost as an inconvenient exercise inhibiting faster communication.

Consider this.  How often in planning a dinner with friends have you sent them choppy messages over an instant messaging program to the effect of – dinner at freds, 6?  Tthen upon a rival sent a text message such as, “have table. at the back.”  Oh, how convenient this is.

Interaction with English language is becoming all about speed and efficiency.  I would argue that the language itself is becoming a victim of the digital age.  When was the last time you wrote a descriptive letter to a friend or colleague?  I would suspect that at least nine out of ten of the average messages sent are extremely succinct and to the point in a business-like fashion.  I would argue that digitization of the language is making words an inconvenient expense.    The language itself, I would argue, is simply too time consuming for many people.  I really don’t think we’ve all suddenly forgotten how to speak or write properly.  We’re talking to each other, but we’re not really saying anything.  We’re cutting out the meaning of language by reducing its importance in our circles of communication.

This digitization is being reflected in all spheres – I have seen many advertisements that simply do not make grammatical sense anymore, students (even university level ones) who write their work in ‘MSN’ lingo, newspaper articles (always poorly written) are worse than ever.  I really fear what the literary production of the English world will be in thirty years – will we still contribute to the most productive, inventive, and adaptive culture the world has ever known?  Will the English maintain its identity and therefore its place in the world because of a literary blight?

Command and mastery of a language is a skill to be valued.  English is an especially important language for its ability to evolve and adapt and draw from all other forms of human communication – but it cannot be wasted.  The value of English cannot be understated – it is a worldwide language.  Its mastery cannot allow one to truly convey one’s opinions, views of the world, and truly have a presence on the world.

We are slowly losing the greatest gift our ancestors gave us for cold machine efficiency.  With it, we could all be losing our individuality.  We are losing who we are as simply becoming citizens of a cold, technological era.  I could be wrong.  But consider it for a moment.

2 Comments so far
  1. Nick January 22, 2009 1:40 pm

    Maybe you should approach this issue the same way our prof approached voting yesterday: “People died for us to have this right”. Something along those lines? =)
    I agree with though.

    I feel that the way in which we communicate is not the problem (text msg, chat, etc.), it’s the way people type/write those messages. Could it be an underlying education problem? I’m not saying education is to blame, it is most probably a consequence of exposure to new technologies, wanting to maximize time efficiency and all that jazz, but can education fix this?

    I’ve actually started to hear people saying “L-O-L” and other “MSN” type words out loud in recent months… This cannot happen!

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