A lot of my friends lament that iPhones and Facebook have destroyed the integrity of person-to-person distance communication. In the “good ol’ days,” when communicating via screens were not an option, people actually called one another on the phone, and were able to hear one another. This aural experience allowed (dare I use the past tense!) one to hear the tone of another’s voice, which could imply many things—sadness, happiness, agitation. Sure, you couldn’t see the person face-to-face, but it was certainly an exchange with a sort of friendly intimacy.
Compare this to today’s standard “screened” greeting:
The absolute sloppiness in communication is something that worries many. But millions of others barely care. These days, it’s about how to exercise the least amount of effort required to be understood:
“wat u doin”
Sure, there is an understandable exchange here. But to me, this is highly disturbing. In the very least, there are grammatical errors galore. For me to deconstruct what they are, would be akin to pulling my eyelashes out, one by one. It is also an obvious detail to point out, and not what I want to emphasize here.
Instead, think of this: the above conversation indicates absolutely no hint of personality in either person. For me, this conversation appears as if neither person has any shred of uniqueness. And I know, when I talk to people such as this, it doesn’t even feel like I’m talking to a person. It feels like I am talking to laziness itself.
This is why I choose to fight, bitch and moan against this disturbing social convention. But how do I fight? I fight, by writing all of my emails and texts and instant messages with proper spelling and grammar. I fight, by writing in complete sentences. And even if it is a one- or two-word text, I make sure to put a period at the end of it, if warranted.
I do this as a matter of respect. First off, I have respect for myself, and I hold a high standard for how I communicate. But more importantly, I also respect the other person—the recipient of my messages. (Does anyone even use this word anymore?) Indeed, if I am interacting with someone, they deserve my full attention. They deserve to be treated with courtesy. Sure, I use acronyms such as “lol” or “g2g.” But I weave them into my messages in such a way that it abbreviates and colloquializes, without compromising my sense of care for the other person. For example:
“Oh man, I g2g. Mom’s calling, I’ll get back to you soon. ttyl!”
I’m not exercising the best of grammar here. But if one were to write out the abbreviations, you would still end up with a respectable message:
“Oh man, I’ve got to go. Mom’s calling, I’ll get back to you soon. Talk to you later!”
There. A pleasant message, and fairly deft, considering that it was written on the fly. This same efficient-yet-caring approach can be also extrapolated from using emojis. In fact, emojis properly used can help to recreate that in-person experience of socialization otherwise lost due to distance. And now, with so many emojis to choose from, you can actually nuance your smile to have a “just so” effect, the way a painter chooses a certain shade of blue for that sky—I’m reaching a bit here, but this is how I personally view the whole emoji affair myself. It’s definitely an opportunity to express oneself uniquely.
Regarding my suggestion for people to clean up their sentences in instant messaging—I admit it is a steep order for many.
I myself am a natural writer type that is already inclined to be eloquent through language, and I think very fast too. Regarding the latter point, I actually have a mental illness diagnosis, of which mania and racing thoughts are a deleterious symptom. But these days, medications are able to temper my mind sufficiently, so my racing thoughts now become an asset. Although, I’ve certainly suffered substantially due to my illness, and I do not tout it as anything positive. I won’t go into it, but I’ll just say this: I’ve been on disability for the last five years, and have not been able to even hold down a full-time job until last year.
But I digress. Even if one is not a grammarist or a fast thinker, I intend not to deprecate any single person for being “slow,” because we all truly are of value. One can still make an effort to be personable online to the best of their ability. If this became a convention, those who struggle could improve as well. I notice this myself when I engage people online—my respectful and eloquent manner helps others to become more personable as well, perhaps beyond their capacity when on their own:
Me: “Hey, just wanted to say hi! How are you doing?”
Me: “Ok cool! How was your day?”
Jane: “nt so good”
Me: “Oh man, sorry to hear that. What happened?”
Me: “Like what?”
Jane: “dog died”
Me: “!!!!! I’m so sorry. That sounds horrible.”
In this conversation, notice that I made an effort to ask Jane kindly-worded questions. I showed overall concern about how she was doing, and I asked questions that were not necessarily easily answered with a single word. And while Jane was terse and single-worded in her answers, she did open up in a sense, to the extent that I was able to show sympathy and concern regarding the death of her dog.
Perhaps I am too nit-picky with my criticism of today’s rampant culture of online ineloquence. Sure, there are people who genuinely cannot “do better.” But I also see this convention to be an unfortunate convenience. Sloppy language is acceptable, and people don’t have the motivation to improve it. It boils my broccoli.
Earlier, I had mentioned phone conversations as an older method of distance communication. But let us go further back in time. There was an era, when people wrote paper letters to one another. What we call today “snail mail.” Ah yes. One would take a pen and paper, and write a letter—perhaps relaying the day’s household mishaps with the children, or perhaps a love letter that a soldier sends to his wife waiting back home, hoping he comes back alive when the war’s over.
I’ve written my fair share of paper letters. In the seventh grade, my absolute best friend moved away with her family, leaving Queens, New York to go to Troy, Alabama. It was the end of my world as I knew it.
This was right before people started writing emails, so we corresponded the old-fashioned way. Via letters. It was great fun, actually! Every week, I would receive a three- or four-paged letter from her, which was always written with a very specific pen. She and I both had a favorite brand and model of pen, the Pentel RSVP; she would use the pink shade, and I the blue. It was actually a terrible time for me though, as I was struggling with crippling depression. But the letters I got from her—this was one of only two things that brought me any shred of happiness to my life. The other was the TV show “Mystery Science Theater 3000.”
Letter-writing is a complex form of art. It is the art of conveying one’s intention, and perhaps feelings, solely through deft use of language. Of course, one can be cut and dry with this. But traditionally, much care and consideration was put into letters. People would communicate the most intimate of feelings—even the nature of love itself. But don’t get me wrong, a letter can be all thorns too. We can write hateful things of sheer venom, if you think of it.
But when writing a letter, I believe one can potentially access a part of the mind and heart not even revealed through in-person communication. Letter-writing is a contemplative affair, at heart. One looks within himself to sort out his feelings, and then writes what comes to mind after exercising such a personal inventory. One could be more impulsive as well, and write sort of freely from the heart, or from raw emotion itself. Reading a letter can also allow the reader to virtually enter the mind of the writer. Note, that nearly all humans think in the same way: through silent words in our head. Letter-writing serves to bring these internal words to the surface, whereupon they can be shared with others. In this way, letter-writing becomes a truly empathic experience.
Sadly, this sort of letter-writing is all but an extinct art. However, I feel that this sentiment can be revived. Do note, that communication via screens is also a form of harnessing written language to express oneself! Perhaps, when we talk online or text, we can keep this letter-writing method in mind, so that we can create more meaningful exchanges. Just because technology makes communication easier and more efficient, it does not mean that we need to make our emotions and thoughts more “byte-sized” and efficient as well. To do so serves to diminish our complex qualities that make us human.
I am optimistic about the future of communication. It actually brings me sheer joy to be eloquent, and I couldn’t communicate otherwise even if you paid me. (Seriously, my brain would explode if I tried. Figuratively, I mean. It would be disastrous to my psyche.)
Thoughtful writing has enabled me to forge dozens of meaningful, years-long friendships with people whom I have never met in person before.
Many of these people live in foreign countries, ranging from Germany to Tunisia. I have also received praise and recognition for my writing ability at my job, simply because I write courteous and well-crafted emails. Inadvertently, my writing also serves to establish my personality as it is perceived online. People see me as kind, intelligent and caring.
And yet, perhaps for me, this goes too far, almost comically. I find that people are kinder and more friendly to me online than in person! Because, in the flesh, I am harsher and frown-ier, due to my inquisitive and analytical nature. I’m also a workaholic, and am rarely satisfied with my performance in any endeavor, whether it be from fitness and nutrition to my poetry. Such is my personal flaw. But if not for the internet, and the chance it provides for eloquence—I would be a much more socially-limited person. And lonely.
We need to see communication via screens as an opportunity to enhance our interactions. But my solution regarding eloquence may not necessarily be the answer for everyone. Others must find their own way. We, as individuals, should all challenge ourselves to think outside of the box, and devise ways that not only make messaging more expressive, but fun! The hard part is starting this journey of contemplation.