The Harbinger Online

Communication Downgrade

I thought I was researching the Declaration of the Rights of Man and Citizen and its relationship to French history. Why am I on Facebook?

It’s like I can feel my brain oozing into impatient, inarticulate goop every time I open the Internet and my conversation skills drying up with every text message.

The French Revolution was the beginning of modern liberalism. I wonder if Napoleon was involved in the military before the Revolution.

Yes! Seven Facebook notifications! I am literally at rock star popularity right now.

Oh, wait, Napoleon might have died of arsenic poisoning? Symptoms of arsenic poisoning include: headache, confusion, convulsion, diarrhea and vomiting.

Upset stomach, diarrhea, Pepto Bismol! Related videos… oh, hey, the original Macarena! Okay, how embarrassing that dance is does not correlate to how seductive the Spanish lyrics are supposed to be. I hope Spanish speakers scoff when it’s played at wedding receptions.

Wait. Wasn’t I looking up French history?

It’s been at least half an hour and I’ve taken in a lot of information, but will I retain any of it? Or was any of it quality? In a week, will I even remember how Napoleon died?

Pulling up multiple tabs, clicking through to related topics and sending messages to each other has made information immediately available, but it comes with its repercussions. Accessibility of information is killing not only my studying abilities, but my capability of more elegant communication.

When we Google something, we don’t want frilly, unrelated topics, we want our curiosities gratified instantly. This cutting to the chase comes at the cost of cordial conversation.

We don’t exchange pleasantries or discuss English literature or controversial historical events when we pass each other in the hallway. I experience a lot more “Hey”s or “How was the English test?”s than meaningful or even sincere conversations.

I for one wish more people had genuine interest when they asked how I’m doing or what’s up. Conversation isn’t spam like unwanted search results, it’s integral to filling basic social needs.

If we can’t talk intellectually even among friends, we certainly won’t be able to do so comfortably with teachers or co-workers.

If I, as a teenager, am unintelligible in daily conversation, I can only imagine the foreseeable future of a society of equally incoherent adults. My list of regularly used vocabulary seems to become shorter and shorter by the day. Rather than a litany of details whose meaning may be lost in translation, we instead use bland words that grow more and more common.

Learning a new word each day is a great way to expand your horizons, but this doesn’t mean stretching to use impressive words incorrectly or in a context that no one will appreciate. Ernest Hemingway and William Faulkner had an infamous rivalry. Faulkner once said that Hemingway “has never been known to use a word that might send a reader to the dictionary.”

Hemingway responded, “Does he really think big emotions come from big words?”

I agree with Hemingway in the sense that we draw meaning from words that we already know. However, the fact that we as a society don’t find meaning in bigger words means that those words will go extinct if we can’t use them.

We “like” things now, rather than stating our opinions on them. Where critique used to mean constructive criticism, we now give comments like, “I liked it, it was good.” Our ability to click a button to show our approval has given us an opportunity to avoid stopping to really think about the subject at hand. Instead, we want to appreciate something immediately then move on to the next thing that might please us. This lack of reflection cheapens the experience and undermines personal appreciation and response.

Instant gratification is ubiquitous in technology, but we don’t take advantage of its opportunities for research or personal edification. Instead, we do what all teenagers and people in general tend to do most naturally: we socialize.

The most popular websites, like Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, Wikipedia and email services, encourage visitors to share their own and view others’ content. Herein, informal language is king of the castle and extravagance is abandoned to give free reign to lawless, grammar-less communication that often can’t express a message much less an emotional depth. Texting, Facebook and Twitter all allow us to send a message to our friends and affiliates with the click of a button.

That click is redefining friendship in way more than Facebook relationship statuses can describe. Technology doesn’t just enable us to share with others, it serves as a way to define our relationships with them.

Is she really my friend if our friendship overview photo on Facebook is a cat? He didn’t text me back in two minutes or less, he must be angry at me. Or he fell asleep. No, he’s totally angry. Do I really want to be friends with someone who not only confuses the forms of “your” but spells it “ur?” They’ve been dating for ages and they text all the time, but they’re so awkward in-person that I seriously doubt if they know what each other’s voice sounds like.

Language is humans communicating with humans and we do so in a fashion that we think our reader or audience will understand. In a world where informal settings like via text or tweet have become more and more popular, language overall is slowly devolving to be less and less formal.

If we’re not careful, we’ll lose both our likelihood and ability to speak elegantly.

Rather than simply accepting information, we should analyze it. What about this little kid in a YouTube video is adorable? How exactly is that lolcat personified? Additionally, this analysis shouldn’t be treated as a dirty little secret. If we have an opinion on something, we should share it. We have a stigma that we shouldn’t speak unless if we’re confident in what and how we’re saying something. We need to fight to prove that we can, in fact, be intelligent in daily life.

Not to mention the fact that we can’t seem to stay on subject for more than thirty seconds.

Overall, technology and our dependence on it makes us less intelligent when we speak and write. And less attentive. And less focused—in both subject and word choice. Syntax, that is.

Can syntax be applied to spoken word? An online dictionary is up on my screen as soon as my keyboard and mouse can get me there.

Syntax is used interchangeably with word choice, but it actually encompasses structure as well. Is it ironic that I’m looking up “word choice” in a thesaurus? I almost want to tweet about how paradoxical this seems, but I feel like I should watch the quality of my tweets.

Wait, what was I looking up again?

Oh, wait. French history. Right.

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Emily Donovan

Emily is a senior at East who has happily joined the Harbinger as a Staff Writer and Anchor. Besides would-be writer, Emily is an International Baccalaureate candidate, "theatre kid," and artiste-wanna-be. Read Full »

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