Lately there has been a good deal said about words, language, contexts and such. Words have been invented, blamed, redeemed, salvaged, resurrected, and crucified at whim.
All, mind you, by the use of words.
I was recently going through some of my posts and a few by fellow-bloggers. I noticed a certain commenting pattern. There is hardly ever a conversation in the comments (yes, I know some blogs do have that characteristics, a very few, however). Visitors hardly ever reply to the comments made by the owner. I notice the choice of words – it is almost as if a signal to end a conversation. I have a theory that on an average, an average comment (or its reply) is no more than 25 words. Noticing this, I began a conversation and replied to the reply on a comment that I made. it just became unsustainable.
I have often talked of being in coffee shops and pubs – for a great conversation. Something about a drink, it seems to me, stimulates thoughts and possibly the right words and encourages the flow. It has been often difficult for me to leave such a conversation.
There is one argument that technology (I’ll use the more appropriate ‘gadget’) has caused the death of the art of conversation. It is a very easy argument, argues that SMS-speak and chats have caused people to talk the monosyllabic language. (See the sixth comment in the BBC article linked above) It’s not so much the gadgets themselves, but our choice of how we use the gadgets and how we respond to their use. You have probably used the almost omnipotent “hmm” a million times. How could a gadget ever decide, dictate, or direct the use of “hmm” in an instant messenger chat? It is our inability (or unwillingness) to provide a more meaningful and a thoughtful response. We are a busy generation, perhaps? Don’t have the time to write or say what we really feel and think and leave most of it open to interpretation? Like I said before, there is technology, and then there is isolating technology. But I might add now, that there is also how we use it – how we choose to use it.
It is the convenience of the gadget that has caused the death, not so much the gadget itself. The ability to instantly provide further clarity to what we said makes us lazy enough not to compose our thought completely in the first place.
I recently read this sentence. And it struck me, as much as wordy our generation may find it, as conveying so beautifully the exact feeling, the writer felt. I have since, asked for forgiveness for all the expletives I have showered on words. This is a single sentence in a letter from Adam Smith to David Hume.
You have, in a declining state of health, under an exhausting disease, for more than two years together now looked at the approach of death with a steady cheerfulness such as very few men have been able to maintain for a few hours, though otherwise in the most perfect health.
When electronic communication and phones didn’t exist, the sheer logistics of communication required a comprehensive presentation of thought. There was a need to compose it well. Make it complete. Imagine your recent chat conversation happening through paper & ink letters and through post (snail mail, we call it). Each message on the chat as a new letter, each smiley, each hmm.
I recently used the word ‘hate’ in a chat very casually, when my friend asked, isn’t that a strong word? I agreed and retracted the word; I meant to say, ‘I don’t particularly believe that the actress has any acting skills; I don’t like her as an actress’. When I think back, I wouldn’t have used the word ‘hate’ if, for example, I was writing a letter. It was just too casual – I assumed that my friend would understand what I meant; perhaps in the context of the conversation. Bad assumption! It is also not the case that we don’t have the right words. And even if we don’t know the right word, we have access to online dictionaries and thesauri.
This thought has been particularly difficult for me to present. I rely far too much on gadgets, even like them. At the same time I miss the romance of participating in a good conversation; receiving a good letter.
Isn’t this thought regressive in a way; it seems to keep us tied to an apparently romantic past; defies evolution?