Has anyone studied in depth how electronic communication—emails and texting––is changing language? The obvious difference is that it’s not verbal, but written. This means that the physical clues we pick up from being in the presence of someone––body language, mannerisms, speech patterns, tone of voice, etc.––are absent. But exchange of physical gestures is not the only difference. Electronic communication can never replace the spoken word for any number of reasons.
Implicit awareness that the communication may not be entirely private. No one today sending a text message or email reasonably believes that the communication cannot be seen by others. This implies that even the most private thoughts can no longer be expressed with complete candor. As to what can or should be expressed, invisible lines are being drawn––drawn by others.
Subtle recognition that there are some things that cannot be said. Because the text message or email may one day become public, there’s a mindfulness that the message should to some degree be curtailed or self-censored. Process makes a difference as well. Imagine the difference in subtlety and substance between a group meeting in person as opposed to a group meeting where the only form of communication allowed is texting.
Lack of sound which restricts nuance and complexity, feeling and emotion. Because we cannot hear the other person speak, we know the message we’re receiving lacks depth and dimension. Even if the message sent is intended to be utterly urgent, the degree of urgency will be perceived as somewhat filtered or lessened––and it’s not only timbre and tone, but substance as well that’s affected.
The next question then becomes: is this new form of communication affecting the language we speak to each other when we’re together? This actually is an area that deserves investigation and research. But for our purposes we will assume that the language we use and the way we communicate are being affected. What’s to be done in response?
The first step is to recognize the influence. The effect is probably gradual, occurring in small ways over months and years, so slight as to be imperceptible. At least in some instances, there’s clearly been a change: at times, depending on context, any statement or group of statements which cannot be expressed in seconds as opposed to minutes is looked upon with circumspection.
The next step is to keep the two entirely separate. Once an awareness is grasped of this potential influence, steps can be taken to lessen its effect. It may be we’re witnessing the creation of a new form of speaking––a hybrid mode of shorthand communication where only the outer surface of ideas are conveyed. If that’s the case, it will require even greater (not lesser) thought and planning before speaking, particularly during trials, so that every word imparts meaning. In the meantime, it’s best to keep in mind that verbal speech should be allowed free reign to fly and soar on its natural wings, over the immensity of the world, never stopping, never once looking down.