Here are some statistics for you:
- More people currently have a mobile phone capable of accessing the internet than have a PC with net access (source: Mobile Top Level Domain, the organisation charged with overseeing the ‘.mobi’ domain name registration)
- Sending text messages is now almost as common as talking on mobile phones
- Only 12% of mobile users never use their phone for texting (and virtually half of these people are over 65).
- 70% of 15-24 year-olds say they ‘could not live’ without their mobile phone
- There are an estimated 110 million-150 million blogs in existence (although many of these are abandoned soon after they are established)
Technology’s role in our lives is astonishing. Its effect on the way we communicate has changed the English language forever.
To be more specific, the way we speak today is, by and large, the way we spoke before the internet became what it is, albeit with an enriched vocabulary. Conventions of telephone conversations have, to my mind, changed little: we still use the same methods – if not words – to greet and sign off, for example.
What is hugely different, however, is the way we write today. That is the area where technology has had the biggest impact.
Email altered the structure of the letter as a communicative tool. It brought with it a whole new etiquette, as well as new conventions and new abbreviations, such as IMO (in my opinion), FWIW (for what it’s worth), IIRC (if I remember correctly) and FYI (for your information).
And it introduced the idea that WORDS IN UPPER CASE MEAN WE ARE SHOUTING, while lower case writing is the accepted form.
But email English is nothing compared to the impact upon language driven by mobile phone users. The rate and extent of change this has had is truly astounding.
The way we write our text messages is now so widely accepted that it has infiltrated mainstream advertising. Here are two examples I can think of immediately:
Virgin Media, the British company, ran a campaign several months ago for its provision of broadband (or Brdbnd, as it called it) and, a little more locally to me, a council campaign advised us: ‘Dnt B Wstfl’.
And then we have the meteoric rise of blogging. There are now well over 100million blogs worldwide. Add to that the even-more-baffling growth of the key social networking websites – MySpace, Bebo, Facebook – and we start to see the whole picture. The watch-words today are ‘user-generated content’ (UGC).
So, to sum up…email + texting + blogging + social networking sites = people writing more how they speak and less like they used to write. And, essentially, less like they had to write – either for a boss, a parent or a teacher.
Also, let’s remember one of the basic driving elements in this transition: the screen size of mobile phones is small and, therefore, text messaging was always, by default, short. And short, inevitably, becomes shorter.
People frequently writing the same things would reduce the length of those words and phrases so that the meaning remained intact while the effort required to communicate – and the amount of screen space used – were both minimised.
So why have I written numerous ebooks, articles and tips offering help for better writing and detailing the intricacies of English grammar?
Because while mainstream, digital communication alters language use, it does not eradicate the traditional; it merely sits alongside convention. And there are plenty of people who are still interested in English as we have known it since before the 1990s, when mobiles and Messrs Page and Brin (Google’s founders) came to prominence.
And of course, if there were no rules in the first place, where would we be now? Gd only knws.