A few weeks ago, I came across a few intriguing questions in a job application form. Not just the usual inquiries about motivations, strengths and career plans, but questions that you could argue about in a pub or write books about. Below is my answer to the following question: “How much does it matter, if at all, that texting and twittering treat spelling convention with little respect? Please limit your answer to 250 words”. At the end of the post, you’ll find more food for thought.
«The medium is the message», said Marshall McLuhan, reminding us that communication involves at least two layers on which meaning is transferred. The first is the message itself; what is being said? The second level, emphasized by McLuhan, is the form and style through which the message is presented; how is it being said? When we communicate, we always take the «how» into consideration in order to decipher the «what».
The lack of respect towards spelling convention in texting and twittering belongs to the second level of communication. It sets a certain casual, informal tone; the sender wrote his or her message without giving it much thought. It suggests a certain evanescence; the message will only be valid for a few moments before the world moves on. It alludes to a functional, rational approach to communication; only the fast and efficient transfer of information is what matters. This is the backdrop against which we interpret misspelled text messages and tweets. In this sense, spelling matters.
It is an altogether different question whether we should lament such disrespectful dealing with spelling conventions. Those who try to conserve and teach languages in their current state would certainly say we should. Others may argue that the linguistic style used in new media will peacefully coexist with the correct and eloquent prose applied in old media. From this perspective, it doesn’t matter that I type «love u. xxx», as long as I occasionally write a love letter.
Two more questions
Many deaths have been confidently predicted. Here are a few: paper, newspapers, history, spam (both), plasma tv, cinema, cigarettes, war, books and the blogosphere. So far, they’re all surviving. Please make two new predictions: one for something that seems to be doomed but in your view isn’t; and one for something that seems to be secure but in your view isn’t. Please limit your answer to 250 words.
You have a younger sister who accuses you of being bossy. She’s just emailed you to say that she’s about to accept a job 5,000 miles from home with an independent film producer she met yesterday in a bar. What do you email back? Please limit your answer to 250 words.