In a lot of ways, the modern world represents a sea change in the every day living of normal people, because of one item: The smartphone. No other device, it can be argued, has had as much impact on how we communicate and interact than the not-so-humble smartphone, for two basic reasons:
Immediacy. In the pre-smartphone era, no one expected communication to be instantaneous. There was always a delay in getting a phone call returned, or a letter responded to. Even email often took the slow way. Smartphones changed this: Suddenly not only could people communicate at us wherever we happened to be, but we could – and are often expected to – respond instantly.
Language. Nothing has had as much impact on casual language and slang as SMS and social media. The slang terms and shifts in language (including rampant abbreviation and the truncating of words down to their first syllables) have created what almost amounts to a new dialect in English.
The Doom Generation
It’s this last aspect of the smartphone revolution that leads some to lament the End of English, arguing that the nearly inscrutable typing of SMS messages and emails and posts to constrained social media sites like Twitter are resulting in a wholesale destruction of the language and the creation of a world of people who no longer have the language skills of their ancestors. This argument is appealing to members of an older generation for a variety of reasons, but is quite simply not even remotely true. If anything, language skills are getting better because of texting and emails and, yes, the humble and often vowel-free Tweet.
Real, Actual Research
Studies have shown that children who regularly text on their phone do much better on standardised tests for language skills. The reason for this is simple: Texting and constrained writing in general requires a deft mastery of language in order to be effective. It’s not a primal matter of dropping random modifiers and articles, it requires complete comfort with the formal language to know what is essential and what is not. The more people are forced to think about their written communication in texts and Tweets, the more control over it they have.
The negative attitude towards texting and Tweeting is generational, and represents the same traditional disdain for subsequent generations that has been expressed since time immeasurable. Every new generation is supposed to be ruined by the advent of technologies – whether it’s television on the Boomer generation or video games on Gen X. The younger generation is always doomed, in the opinion of the older generations, because they are too dumb to see the danger of these newfangled devices!
Of course, the fact is that language skills are the result of education, parental influence, and old-fashioned intelligence. Adapting from formal language to informal slang is an age-old trick mastered by plenty of geniuses and non-geniuses alike, and no different today. It should be no surprise that a teenager can spend half their time tapping out SMS messages that seem like a random collection of consonants, then head into a classroom and score an A in their English exam. Saying that using a corrupted form of English to communicate in special circumstances hurts your overall language skills is akin to saying that riding a bike harms your ability to drive a car.
Ross Dempsey is the Head of Marketing for Glasgoweb, offering web design, PPC and SEO services in Glasgow and across the UK. Ross’ particular expertise lies in SEO, blogging, Social Media and Analytics.