New linguistic paradigm set to rewire our coaxials

Posted on October 04, 2008 by Priya Tuli

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The great language mutation we are in the midst of is nothing short of mind-boggling. In the space of a few short years, we’ve gone from books (and ships and sealing wax) to a few paragraphs of text on our computer screens, a few truncated sentences that serve as conversation, and a few words of txt msging on our mobile phones.

Our attention spans have already adapted, now closely resembling the Ctenocephalides felis (Bouché) or cat flea, jumping from one thing to the next without any rational connect. Cat fleas can jump as high as 17 cm, by the way.

Generally speaking, it seems we are no longer able focus continuously on any one person, place or thing for longer than 3 seconds tops. Which means the old gender thing about women being supreme multi-taskers is now officially obsolete.

Today, everyone is a multitasking specialist. We’re all doing lunch while simultaneously txt msging, reading emails and drafting bullet points for a post-lunch meeting, while ordering dessert and coffee. And then we and look up at our lunch partner and smile brightly, saying, “Yes, so where were we?”

It’s the same everywhere you go; at meetings, airport terminals, spas, elevators, cafes nightclubs.

And my other big gripe: you’re on the phone to someone and you can hear the tapping of a keyboard between the pauses in conversation, music playing and a conversation happening in the background (oh, that’s the TV), as they simultaneously conduct a parallel conversation with someone else by sms on their other mobile phone. I am, of course, guilty of doing exactly the same thing as well, which sort of negates the gripe. Right?

And kids? Their thumbs are perpetually hooked in Gameboy position, even when they’re not decimating aliens or driving the Mario Kart super circuit. Will you STOP waving your thumbs around, please?!?

But to get back to fleas and their attention spans. I never met a flea yet that could read a book, and now with our limited focus, we seem to be following suit. There go our literary skills, too.

Collectively, we don’t have the time, the words or the inclination for any more than the shortest, grammatically incorrect, unpunctuated phrases at best. My last conversation, over three days ago, went something like this: “Eh? What, no really? Weird.”

Most of us don’t even really read much any more. Speed-reading is more like it, skimming over pages to absorb a word or three. Which means writers will soon have to adapt their writing. No more wordiness, neat turns of phrase, elaborate plots and 500-page Booker-winning titles.

Publishing firms will eventually bite the dust, what with the tree-hugger lobby loudly protesting that reams of paper are eating up too many trees.

Imagine instead, a whole book written in sms-ese, which you can read on the screen of your new iPhone on your way to work. I believe the Japanese have already full-body-embraced this new genre.

And now here’s one better, for the die-hards who still prefer to hold a live book made of dead trees between their grubby, grasping hands.

Look out for a whole new literary genre that I’m convinced will be the next big thang. It’s the six-word story, and is not that new, actually; Hemmingway wrote a six-word short story years ago, calling it his best: For sale: baby shoes, never worn." I totally love it. What the six-word story takes away in terms of descriptions, characters and plots, it more than makes up for by allowing you, the reader, to fill in the blanks with your own storyline.

I strongly urge you to go buy the book Six Word Memoirs. Our reading habit might well die an unsung death, but for sure our imaginations will take wing and go back to creating phantasmagorical tales, as they did when we were kids. Still, I could only get through several pages at a time; using one’s imagination can get tiresome. Far better, I think, to let the writer do that for you.

Even so, just to whet your appetite somewhat, here are some more six-word stories:

Failed SAT. Lost scholarship. Invented rocket.
- William Shatner

Computer, did we bring batteries? Computer?
- Eileen Gunn

Vacuum collision. Orbits diverge. Farewell, love.
- David Brin

His penis snapped off; he’s pregnant!
- Rudy Rucker

Wasted day. Wasted life. Dessert, please.
- Steven Meretzky


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