One of the more common critiques of the rise of technology and social media is that it stunts human connection. “Put down your phone and have a real conversation with someone.” Communication via the internet is seen as less authentic — or is it? Is it simply an evolution of language, not inferior or superior to other forms of communication, but simply another facet? Because yes — obviously — you should interact with people face-to-face, but other communication media can be valid and fulfilling as well.
Yes, we all spend a lot of times looking at memes, but we’re also able to keep in touch with friends and family in a very immediate way. I don’t have to worry how many stupid memes I send to my friends because I’m also able to send long, well-thought-out texts or carry on hours-long conversations over Skype.
Not only have we gained new modes of communication, but we’ve adapted the language in order to better communicate. We throw around emojis and emoticons (which convey two very different tones), but there are also ways people will adapt their syntax and grammar to better convey their meaning. “I’M YELLING” and “i’m yELLING” are two different phrases. “Jfdskafjasl” is a much more appealing keysmash than “eruioequ.” Depending on the context, the speech may become laden with references. “Looks into camera like on ‘The Office,’ ” for example, is a quick way to convey a particular reaction to an absurd situation. And don’t even get me started on how we all just quote Vines left and right.
The way in which phrases become commonly used is also fascinating. Calling someone a “cinnamon roll” is a reference to the headline “Beautiful Cinnamon Roll Too Good For This World, Too Pure,” which originated from an article from the Onion. But the internet took that random post from the Onion and turned it into a shorthand for describing certain (often famous) people.
And for all the flak that “text speak” gets, I think we all know that “idk” and “I don’t know” are two very different sentiments, and that literally no other word in the English language can capture the intended sentiment behind “lol” in all lowercase sent in response to a horrifyingly awkward incident.
Instead of viewing social media as having somehow corrupted language, we should recognize it for what it is, a fascinating instance of the ability for languages to adapt as needed. English and other languages were not designed for this sort of communication. But having sat through weeks of Chaucer lectures, I can assure you this isn’t the first time the language has adapted.
I don’t believe the rise of “internet speak” is going to eclipse the current form of the language. I don’t use “idk” in my English papers, not only because my professors would probably hunt me down, but because that’s not the tone or language I need in order to express what I’m trying to convey. I’ll weave complicated sentences peppered with commas for my classes, and occasionally for my column. And when my friend sends me the latest ridiculous headline and we’re both feeling overwhelmed by encroaching doom, I’ll respond with “¯\_(ツ)_/¯” because sometimes that’s all I’ve got.
Danielle writes the Thursday column on finding your home. Contact her at [email protected].