Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Technology and writing

I'm privileged to be a member of the generation which has grown up along with the revolution in consumer technology. I'm old enough to remember writing school papers by hand, using cute stationery to handwrite letters to friends, and looking up words in (gasp!) a dictionary that lived on the bookshelf. The capabilities offered by technological developments, especially the word processor and the Internet, have undoubtedly changed the way we write. Are the changes for the better? I fear not.

The biggest change I've noticed in my own writing is verbosity. Since I type much faster than I write, I've grown accustomed to using many more words than I really need to express a concept. Part of the cause is that I know it's easy to edit afterward, so there's less incentive to get it right the first time. And the speed with which I can transfer my thoughts to text is so rapid that there's no time for even internal editing; in fact, perhaps I'm even buying time for my brain by having my fingers type filler phrases. Occasionally, when I want to handwrite a personal note of some length, I'll actually compose it at the keyboard and then copy it longhand. That's when the verbosity is painfully obvious---pun intended.

Another scary writing practice I attribute to the use of online communication is my increasing inability to write without smilies, or emoticons. I do manage to keep them out of professional correspondence, but among friends I find myself peppering my paragraphs with annoying little faces that would be unnecessary if I just took the time to express my thoughts more precisely in words. There's an online forum I frequent which actually has animated smilies available, and when I'm not on it I find myself really missing the ability to add the little face rolling its eyes or blushing. Perhaps this is just a sign that all our different methods of communication---writing, speaking, body language---are merging, but I still feel that certain nuances of meaning that used to be expressed in words no longer are.

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