If not, then why write emails and texts the way you do?
In this article at The Federalist, staff writer Philip Wegmann takes millennials and curmudgeons alike to task for degrading the quality of written communications.
The piece starts with this:
On the floor of the Senate, surrounded by elected officials and important dignitaries, an eccentric inventor started texting.
On May 24, 1844, with an electrical wire strung from DC to Baltimore, Samuel Morse transmitted the first telegraph, forever transforming the world. Reflecting on the divine providence of this technological leap forward, Morse tapped out a message of dashes and dots that read, “What hath God wrought?”
Now Kelly texts Becky, “OMG! Look at her butt!” and businessmen email, “see attached,” squandering our great inheritance with an incessant electroshock torture of the English language. Multigenerational murder, this linguistic abuse unites and indicts the young and the old.
I’m starting to like this guy. “Multigenerational murder” and “linguistic abuse” are pretty strong terms, but Wegmann does his best to support them with examples of corporate email abuse and texting, the latter of which he describes as “the most prominent vehicle for linguistic manure.” He urges curmudgeons to clean up their own acts before complaining about millennials (of which he is one), then asks for everyone to come together to solve the “moral crisis” of the “abysmal state of language in email and texts,” before closing with this:
Looking back, will our children read through our love letters and discover our professional triumphs? Will they sift through garbled texts and impersonal emails in desperate search of some greater meaning? Or, even worse, will they shake their heads as they discover how their bickering parents and grandparents made fools of themselves one email, tweet, and text at a time?
Every time we press send, we decide what God hath wrought, we influence whether advances in communication amount to a blessing or a curse. Emails and texts can elevate our language and humanity, or they can turn us into sentient beasts beating on keyboards and talking past one another.
Millennials and curmudgeons should work to save language. The choice is ours to make together.
Jeez, now I’m thinking that I don’t just like this guy, I love this guy!
Wegmann’s article may explain what I have been feeling intuitively to this point, as well as why I engage in some very “old school” communications. I send friends and family letters handwritten with a fountain pen. Soon after I meet someone I would like to keep in touch with as part of my professional network, I send that person a note handwritten with a fountain pen on personalized embossed stationery. I don’t know if those notes have generated any business, but I’ve heard from almost all the recipients about how delighted they were, and how unusual it was, to receive a handwritten note, and that’s enough satisfaction for me. I like to think that my habits will survive even if the decline Wegmann perceives continues apace.
I’m sure there are plenty of people who could mount a credible defense against Wegmann’s charges (as some of the commenters on the article do), and even I recognize the convenience of shorthand (at least in texting), and justifications for texting in general. My feelings are not a dislike for technology generally. (You may recall that I recently disclaimed being a Luddite.) I like technology, but I find myself more resistant to using it for communications. I know that it is somewhat ironic for a blogger to lament electronic communication, but I like to think that I don’t let my blog writing descend to the level lamented by Wegmann. I admit that I tend to slack off somewhat in blogging and emails. I use more colloquialisms than I would in other professional writing, and I use contractions. I think that’s about as far as I go, but if any readers wish to contend otherwise, feel free to use the comments to point out my other flaws.
Note: Don’t refuse to click the link to the article just because The Federalist is very political and you may not agree with its politics. There is nothing political in the piece.
UPDATE: Well, that didn’t take long: another writer at The Federalist posts her response to Wegmann in an article titled Get Used To It: Emails Are Here For Good, with the subheading, “Hating on email is a misplaced frustration. Email isn’t the bad guy, we are. But curt messages or sloppy grammar aren’t a new problem.”