Friday, November 20, 2009

The Evolution of Correspondence

I see them everywhere. The many who so totally thrive and seem to be nurtured in some strange way by ‘word correspondence’. And yes, although my neighbours are all socially polished enough to ignore the newspaper on the kitchen table when they come for coffee, at the same time, in one short hour they will whip out cell phones every four minutes for a brief ‘read’ or more amazing yet, to write.

It is all, to me, such an amazing phenomenon. When did ’writing’ and ’reading’ become such a passion, such a delight, such a part of humankind’s existence? I would never have expected our species to come to this.

I remember my Mother nagging us when we were kids to send a note to Grandma to thank her for the new doll, or a note to Aunty for inviting us for the weekend. We cringed and wailed and held back hoping she’d forget it. She had to be kidding. Expecting us to go to school everyday, and write all those words and figures and then on an evening or weekend to be expected to send written correspondence to someone. Yikes.

Eventually, with all the nagging, the girls in the family might eventually send an un-inspired floral card. But with the boys, it was a useless battle, like expecting them to wash their ears once a week -- Not going to happen!

And yes, we were all keen to have a pen-pal. I enlisted several. Did I write to them? Not so much. A couple of grand epistles and that was the end of that. And even dear friends that moved away. The written exchanges dwindled away rapidly.

And I remember in school when the English Lit assignment was a short paragraph. An audible sigh of objection swept through the classroom that mimicked that same collective sigh heard when the health nurse arrived and we were all advised we were going to get a shot. And if the assignment was 200 words, the wail was a grand duplication of anguished souls in a great pit of fire.

Nothing was quite so degenerating as a request to write something down. We object, we scoff. We know full well what is, or isn’t, a waste of time. And written correspondence is a complete waste of time.

Reading, likewise. But without the luxury of television, we will read comics of a Saturday morning. Yes we will. But assigned reading? Not so much. For the book report, the art of it was to read a bit of the introduction, a page in the middle, and the final chapter all of which sufficed for that assignment. But even that was too much for most of the boys. They shuffled their feet under their desks, they agreed the book report was due, but even at that, no such attempt ever saw the light of day.

Hub was in the same Lit class with me when we were in school, and I know it is true, when he says he did not submit one written assignment during the entire year. He did not, nor did other boys in that class of the same ilk. In those days there were no bigger nerds, than the savages that devoured text or spit it out for love of it. No fashion in it, no style, no sophistication, no class, no koolness.

But now, look around you. Texting, texting, everywhere, without a chance to think. Talk about a savage perusal of written language. People, both young and old, of all genders, are tweeting, twittering, texting, like fiends out of control. And the necessity of doing it ranks right up there with the need for food, water, and shelter.

Texting is totally swank. Written exchanges are welcome and heartily engaged in whether one is eating, sleeping, driving, socializing, sexing, or on the john. When and how did this all happen?

And the amazing thing is the art of texting parallels, in a crazy way, that of the book report aforementioned. It has less to do with content and more to do with speed, terseness, compaction, and overall efficiency.

But even more an enigma, is my position in this new clime of correspondence. I don’t text, but I’m in there. Doing the trendy thing with my writing and blogging.

Yet, even in this new clime, among my circle of friends that are texting someone, somewhere, every four minutes. And same friends that are simultaneously aware of my passion for writing and aware that I have a secret blog. These same, reportedly, among themselves, with sadness that precipitates dewy eyes, express an ongoing and painful concern about the mental deficiency that drives my passion for written text on a daily basis. Go figure!


Pauline said...

This was priceless - until you pointed it out, I hadn't realized how true it is that those students I know whose very hearts would stop if they had to write a paper can text on their phones ad nauseum, not to mention adults who haven't put pen to paper in years. What a funny lot we are! Perhaps it is the instant response that attracts them or the very brevity of words required. I think you nailed it when you said, "It has less to do with content and more to do with speed, terseness, compaction, and overall efficiency."

I neither text nor tweet but I do blog - and I am ever so glad you do, too.

Alan G said...

It would seem we share similar critiques on this particular subject matter. In fact, I find the act of texting somewhat sadistic in nature. I speak, of course, with the act being performed in my presence, in my space if you will. Texting performed otherwise is out-of-sight – out-of-mind! Unless, of course, it causes you to cross the center-line and kill me or someone else.

Yes, surely your sarcastic suppositions are right on with regard to the expansion of a new literary prominence in this new age. And let’s not forget, of course, to participate you will have to learn a new genre of the English language. Or perhaps the use of all those acronyms could be referred to as a literary dialect making it more palatable in the literary sense. And let’s not forget also that the art of writing itself which is slowly being phased from the educational curriculum. And grammar and/or punctuation criteria will surely follow.

We all know that the phenomenon of “Twitter” limits those who use it to a 140-word maximum for an individual post. For those who have a true command of the new literary dialect, it is estimated that you can write a 1000-word commentary within those parameters. It all boggles the imagination. Imagine if you will, Jane Austen’s “Pride and Prejudice” in a handy, leather bound, 100-page, enhanced digital dialect edition.

With regard to your closing comments in reference to blogging, I can completely relate. Friends and acquaintances use to continually harass me about joining Facebook. But they all know I have a blog and yet seldom, if ever, do any of them go to by blog. I have come to the simple conclusion that either reading more than 140 words in one sitting is just too exhausting or they have no interest whatsoever in what I have done in my life or my opinions.

By the way, I did join Facebook and found that not only do the majority who professed to the top of their lungs that Facebook was just a wonderful social networking thing for families almost never post anything, but it seems my entries draw about as much interest as my postings on my blog. So this begs the question, “Do people want you to join Facebook so they can keep in touch with you and share in your interests, or is it all rather just about them?

My particular take on the whole of the issue is that it is simply a self-indulging popularity contest!

Roberta S said...

Thanks for that comment, Pauline. I sometimes think texting is a speed game of wit and quick thinking, albeit on a diminutive scale that makes verbous people like me cringe in horror. But I fear, 'will any of us be left 100 years hense, that understand and appreciate the artful combination of words laid out with such care and then sipped up in a slow and pondering way like the leisure of a hot cup of afternoon tea?'

i.e. The way I feel when I read the treasured phrases you coin in your poetic way about nature and soul in harmony and unison.

Roberta S said...

Alan, I so much enjoyed reading the thoughts you expressed in that comment. By the way, one small correction -- I am not sarcastic, I simply have a involuntary muscle contraction that propells my tongue into my cheek when I start writing, in the same way Grandson ejects his tongue between his teeth when he is concentrating on carving out a piece of paper with a pair of scissors. I only tell you this because in our exchanges you cannot 'see' how helpless I am in trying to prevent tongue-in-cheek chatter.
But as to your comment, I fear you are so right about the eventual consequences of the present style of communication and its long-term effects. I will surely fold with despair when the day comes when I have nothing more to read than acronyms minus capitals and punctuation.
And if that is done to "Pride and Prejudice" (as you suggest and that well could happen - oh horror of horrors), I will be utterly heartbroken. I am already so thoroughly distressed at the picked-clean-bleached-boned-skeleton of the story that ended up being the movie. Jane Austen's work only lives and breathes the life that was intended through the words that form the story. Words that form emotions that cannot be captured on film despite the most valiant efforts.
When I reflect on why I keep my blog so secretive from friends and family, I guess it is a self-protectionism of sorts. They think blogging is dumb and for certain the things I write would only give them more ammunition to criticize. Like someone once said, and I believe it is true - "Familiarity breeds contempt".

Thanks for visiting and adding such fascination insights to this conversation.

Pauline said...

You ask if anyone will be around a hundred years from now that will appreciate the art of writing... it's a good question. I remember just a few years ago people worried that the printed page would go the way of the drive-in movie and it is well on its way, I think. What with the tremendous loss of trees in the making of paper, books able to be printed on demand, books on tape, Kindle, and digital progress, books themselves may become rare objects. Perhaps someone will learn to make paper from quick growing bamboo and the printed word will have a resurgence. Meanwhile, we have each other's words to cheer us.

Some of my family reads my blog but I know of no friends who bother. It's no secret - the web address is imprinted on my email. They ask me, "Don't you write anymore?" and I direct them to my site but so far, no of them have left a comment.

Roberta S said...

Pauline, you make a good point, and I think, as you suggest, the day is fast approaching when the smell of forest papyrus will be replaced by odorless light and electronics. In fact, the other day Hub showed me a flyer with one of those electronic slates that download endless text. I was pleased someone came up with something booklike enough to comfortably read in bed, but somehow my mind and the words do not meld the way they should with computerized text. I told Hub, I'd love it as long as the thing "smells" like a book.
I believe there is some kind of magic in the smell of books that opens my mind to what I am reading, thus the difficulty reading computer text beyond a couple of pages. How can I enjoy old English classics if they don't smell like old English classics should smell?

Dick said...

It seems that the interface between what might be termed the 'old' literacy and the 'new' literacy has been barely considered. Apart from a few journalists doing a bit of zeitgeist-spotting, there seems to have been little public awareness of the irony that you point out so well here.

However, much has been made of the liberties taken with standard English within texting, tweeting and social networking and the conservative view is emphatically that the highly schematic form of language used debases the form. The alternative view moves towards your territory by drawing attention to the simple reality that a.) kids are using written language constantly, which has got to be good, and b.) that English form stifles unless it grows and develops, which clearly, for better or worse, it is through the new media.

For my part, I draw comfort from the not insubstantial presence in blogging of more senior communicators (that's us!) whose fascination with and relative expertise in the new media is supplemented with a deep respect for 'proper' English.

Roberta S said...

Thanks for the comments, Dick. I appreciated being reminded that for today's generation there are some positives. And for our generation, 'respect' is a good description.

I have to say, I do gaze in wonder on the new texting dialect and am so surprised how easy it can be to understand - and so I'm forced to whisper under my breath, "clever, very clever!"

joared said...

I find this subject, your views and experience interesting as are the comments. I must confess that I have long been a closet proponent of adopting English phonetic spelling. Maybe that would be appropriate in all languages. Doesn't such spelling closely approximate one aspect of concise texting?

I have also given brief tongue-in-cheek serious consideration to endorsing Victor Borge's Phonetic Pronunciation for incorporation into our verbal speech and language.

I have engaged in occasional utilitarian texting though I never expected to be doing so.
Just for fun, I've texted an experimental-type twitter though I know very few of the abbreviations.

Surely this twittering is to some extent a fad that will fade except for a few diehards, or it will find a unique niche for select use.

I recall the annoyance I experienced when phones first offered a signal another call was coming in. I did not appreciate being told when in the midst of a phone conversation, "Oh, I have a call on the other line -- hold on a minute." I still don't use call waiting on my land line and I don't know how to operate my latest cell phone well enough to be able to put someone on hold to take another call. I really don't think I'll bother learning that skill.

Mostly friends and family don't read my blog either, much less comment.

Roberta S said...

joared, you twin my own feelings in so many of your comments -- about cell phones, call waiting, blogs, etc. although as far as family and friends reading my blog very few are aware I have one. Some of what I write is too soul-baring for me to want a crowd of acquaintances discussing it. And because I often analyze the people around me, I rather keep my little secret to myself.

I always so much appreciate your thoughts. Thanks for stopping by.