Stupid Tuesday questions, Strunk and White edition
I have misgivings about Twitter and text messages.
I have seen many misgivings about social media expressed in various forums. They often deal in some way with how these new modes of communication and interaction are insidiously taking over our lives, turning us into screen-staring zombies at the expense of our meatspace communities and relationships. I am not saying these concerns are unfounded or that the people who raise them are misguided. But those are not the misgivings that I am talking about.
I am talking about how the character limit on Twitter forces me to truncate normal syntax and limit punctuation marks. I am referring to the unsettling reality that, when I see texts that say “see u later,” I am seeing the accepted norm expressing itself. When I compose texts that are invariably complete sentences, replete with punctuation marks and subordinate clauses and such and so forth, I realize I am doing it wrong. The people who text like they’re Prince circa 1991 are using the mode as intended. When I, obsessively, text a correction when autocorrect swaps in something crazy, I’m probably being annoying since I am sure the recipient could have figured it out without my help.
[Aside: Friends who work on the autocorrect programming, please understand something. Nobody intends to say “ducking.” We mean to say a different, naughtier word. On those rare instances when I send a text using that word to indicate annoyance (I only ever use it in texts for that purpose), it is ducking irritating to have to go back and retype what I really meant to say. Stop it.]
How wrong am I? According to The New Republic , very wrong indeed.
The period was always the humblest of punctuation marks. Recently, however, it’s started getting angry. I’ve noticed it in my text messages and online chats, where people use the period not simply to conclude a sentence, but to announce “I am not happy about the sentence I just concluded.”
Or, as I saw it expressed on Twitter somewhere, my scrupulous punctuation is the text message equivalent of bitchy resting face.
So not only must I accept texts and Tweets comprising punctuation-free collections of letters and numerals where words ought to be, by not doing so myself I am inadvertently communicating ill feelings. It is I who should change, and in the direction of sloppy-seeming “sentence” construction.
Needless to say, this whole thing has Millicent in one hell of a swivet. But as stoutly as be plants herself athwart history, crying “stopped this at once!” in perfectly clipped received pronunciation and brandishing her brolly as menacingly as possible, even she has to know when she is fighting a losing battle. Best to have a rest with an extra-large glass of consoling sherry.
So that’s this week’s (slightly tardy) Question — how has society moved on, leaving you adrift and bereft where once you felt confident and at home? What new thing must you accept, despite liking the older way a bit better? In what manner have you realized how outmoded you are?