Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Will Twitter and SMS Messages Kill Serious Communication

I was asked the question posed in the title of this blog and was somewhat puzzled as to why one might think that communications restricted to 140 characters would somehow cause us to cease to be able to write serious communications.  I then encountered the link associated with the title of this blog wherein it is said
Those that say that text-writing is not ruining communication are not living in the real world. I have heard from many freshman writing professors at colleges who complain about their student's writing. Why hasn't this been addressed before they reached that point? Why isn't anyone telling kids that it is not acceptable to write the same way for an academic paper as it is to write to your friend.
Of course, it is inappropriate to employ the same writing style in a term paper or exam as one uses in a sms or twitter message.  But the problem is not that writing sms and twitter messages is harmful per se.  The problem is that teachers are insufficiently stressing the importance of using formal language in writing test answers, essays, job applications, and anything else meant for adults, including especially people one needs to impress.

I think many adults who are being dragged into the world of electronic, non-voice communication find these highly abbreiated messages somehow offensive in and of themselves.  The writer of hte previsiously quoted passage goes on to say
Personally, when my teenage daughter leaves me notes on the table expressing that she will "C U L8R," I cringe. I actually circle the inappropriate language and leave her a note telling her that I expect a better note than that. 
This is some ugly stuff, no doubt but it is easy to figure the meaning out.  But if the mother thought that this was too abbreviated, I wonder what she would make of a famous telegraphic exchange between Oscar Wilde and his publisher.  The former sent the message "?"  and the publisher replied "!".  Each knew what the other was saying -- "How is the book coming along?" and "It is coming along well."

I agree that the very ugly abbreviations one finds in twitter messages and text messages can be quite off-putting to novices (such as myself).  But they are, after all, abbreviations for words, not substitutes for them.  They are no different from the messages doctors write on prescriptions such as "b.i.d." or "a.u." or "cc."  I think we ought to be a great deal less happy with this sort of communication than the abbreviated texts of sms and twitter messages.  The unfortunate thing about this is that if we could understand exactly what doctors are writing on our scripts, then we could catch any errors the pharmacies or, for that matter, the doctors make.

There is a positive side to the writing of sms and twitter messages.  Anyone attempting to obey the 140 character limit (rather than simply sending one sms message right after another) will inevitably learn to craft succinct messages.  This is a good thing.  All writing is improved by developing succinctness in expressing oneself.  And writing is improved simply by writing itself and what we are seeing from our children is vastly more writing being done now than in several generations.

Labels: , , , ,

Tweet This!


Blogger Doe Smith said...

SMS/Twitter is just another channel for writing. It is probably great since people nowadays has a rush for time.

3:34 PM

Blogger Todd said...

amen - how's that for succinct?

10:07 PM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

2:11 PM

Blogger Rita said...

It's funny that people thought that the computer age would create less "hard copy" but we are inundated with paper more then ever before! I think it's because the information age has created more of a need to get points across then less. You would not believe how many faxes come to our little home town newspaper desk or how many people come to us to get their hundreds of pages of court documents copied, 3 copies each or 4.

I would also guess that any career would have to abbreviate for efficiencies sake, I know mine does. It's part of the world we live in.
I think it's exciting & language of course is ever evolving. Bring it on, I say. :)

11:50 PM

Blogger Priscila said...

We have received 495 nominations for The Top 100 Language Blogs 2010 competition. For each of the four categories we have admitted 100 blogs into the voting phase. Your blog is included for voting in the 'Language Professionals' category. Congratulations!
As stated in our language blog Lexiophiles, 50% of the final score will be based on user votes. You can promote your blog by embedding a voting button in your page. The button code is available in the Lexiophiles blog. It can also be sent via email if you contact me.
The voting phase started on May 12th and ends on May 24th. Winners will be announced May 28th.
Good luck!
on behalf of the bab.la and Lexiophiles team

8:06 AM

Blogger 淑君 said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

10:53 PM

Blogger Priscila said...


I’m writing to inform you that although your blog ‘{{blog }}’ got to the voting phase it wasn’t classified as one of The Top 100 Language Blogs 2010. We’d like to thank you for participating and sharing this experience with us!

With 495 nominated blogs and more than twenty thousand user votes the competition broke last year's record, making it probably the largest competition in its field. You’re welcome to visit bab.la and see the complete list if The Top 100 Language Blogs 2010 here:


Kind regards,


On behalf of the bab.la and Lexiophiles team

9:44 AM

Blogger Le vent fripon said...

hi language guy. good to see you're still posting. i think the development of a new form of abbreviation is a sign of a young generation's creativity!

6:41 AM

Blogger Johannes Refsdal said...

Hi, languageguy. Just discovered your blog, and will certainly be bookmarking it.

I have a comment or two about your post:

1. I read somewhere (I hate not being able to provide a reference, but this was a while ago) that since the emergence of text messages and internet, this generation is writing vastly more per person than any before it. Before mobile phones, Facebook, MySpace and Twitter, there was a huge demographic that, once they left school, would do insignificant amounts of reading and writing for the rest of their lives. The problem (if we can call it that) isn't that people's writing ability is declining, but that suddenly, we are subjected to the writing of what was formerly the 'silent majority', in all its ragged glory. So rather than bemoan or lament the sub-par quality of the plebs' oeuvres, we should applaud their unapologetic ventures into the world of the written word. If that didn't make me sound like an insufferable, pompous, patronising shit, what will?

2. Shouldn't your headline include a question mark? In the interest of "good" punctuation?

1:47 PM

Blogger The Language Guy said...

I totally agree with you of course, including your comment about the missing "?'. I am not a big user of punctuation. Dunno why, but that has been true for a lobby time.

1:55 PM

Blogger IbaDaiRon said...

I Tweet, therefore I am.

(A bird?)

5:11 AM

Blogger Samuel said...

Really SMS, & twitter, facebook all those communications are changing our beautiful language, we should take it serious & bring back our culture.

Advanced Driver Improvement Course Florida

8:24 AM

Blogger The Language Guy said...

In fact, we write differently in different contexts. These short message environments demand a different style off writing from business letters, love letters, or term papers and these will remain the same since they have very different requirements.

But if they are changed there is nothing that can be done to reverse it.

12:33 PM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Nice article. Sure the way we write text messages is one thing but really it´s sad that because of this many young people aren´t able to write a normal sentence. There should be put more stress on proper writing in schools.

10:48 AM


Post a Comment

<< Home