Friday, June 20, 2014

Parallel Effects


We read to connect with other minds. Every day I find that  there is a lot to read and digest. There are always writings for everyone who cares to read. But we have to be selective in what we read as not only the information may be inaccurate and  misleading, the writings may contain a lot of bad grammars and spelling mistakes.

Last weekend, I was feeling all drowsy, my head was hurting and my legs felt heavy. The doctor confirmed that it was the flu bug, I felt miserable because I could not concentrate and think clearly. I had been rather slow in getting to the end of the novel, “ The Word Exchange  a debut novel written by Alena  Graedon. It is a science fiction that talks about a world where prints are dead and a group of  some unscrupulous people have  invented a virus that cause words to disappear and those  infected with such a virus lose their ability to communicate.

This week, the columnist for the Sun daily newspaper , Nury Vittachi wrote in his article entitled “Saving the apostrophe.” about how internet users frequently use the phrase “Your” when they mean “ You’re ”. According to the said writer, by 2009 “your’ was replacing “you’re” in about 50% of the exchanges he monitored, and today “your” has triumphed almost completely. Incidentally, there was some typographical error in the sentence printed in the said article, so I presume that he had meant about 50% and not more than 50% when it was printed as “about than 50%”. The said writer was concerned about the rate the English language is being mangled in print and on the internet and since modern dictionaries are governed by the “descriptive not proscriptive” principle, which means ”your” will soon appear as a legitimate alternative for “you’re”. If he calls for “Save the Apostrophe meeting”, I will definitely attend.

Grand Cafe ,Oxford
Due to the common usage of abbreviation in our texts messages on our phones, we run the risk of  losing the ability to spell our words correctly. Recently, in a group chat  formed by some schoolmates via whats app, someone typed “G9” another asked “ What is G9?” the person responded, “Good night is G9” and advised the other person to get  to know  text lingo. My daughter told me that  she used it when she was  thirteen and she has stopped using since. With constant usage of words that sound like the actual words we are meant to write, we can gradually lose touch with the actual spelling of these words. When we text, we let our grammar slide and we use short forms. A few weeks ago, someone took a snap shot of two signboards that were placed on the road that led to the place where some by-election was taking place. One signboard read:“Sorry for the inconvenience erection going on” while the other one read: “ Road is temporary closed for erection”. It is funny yet it is no laughing matter.

Sloppiness not only appears in emails and text message, it appears in newspaper and all kinds of printed materials including signboards and brochures that are being distributed at the shopping malls. At work, if I were to insist on having every email and letter that is written in English to contain absolutely no grammatical or spelling errors before they are sent out , not only I  would get  very little work done, I would consume more time, more  paper and more  ink for the printer. In fact we seriously  need an editor to proofread every single letter if we demand perfection. Once upon a time, I had staff telling my office partner that she was resigning because I had made her correct the same letter and type it umpteenth times. What she had omitted to note was that it was due to the errors that had appeared in those letters. These days I have become far less demanding as I figure that we cannot afford the time and also the wastage of precious stationery. Since words can be easily corrected on computers, staff pays even less attention to their typing, as a result, the work gets  more sloppy. It would appear that the switch from typewriters to computers certainly have not saved millions of trees and now we have discarded parts of the computers to deal with for our environment.

How can we convey a message effectively if we are unable to spell the words and use the grammar correctly? The standard of English is declining due to the way we communicate via text messages and social media. It is an epidemic.
In  The Word Exchange, words get scrambled and  language is disappearing, as a result,thoughts and memories are in danger of becoming disposable. The protagonist, Anana Johnson works with her dad, Doug, who is a lexicographer at the North American Dictionary of the English Language, and they are hard at work on the final edition of the dictionary that will ever be printed. One evening, Doug disappears and Anana has to search for Doug based on a single code word : ALICE. The writer of the book, Alena Graedon divides the book into three sections, THESIS, ANTITHESIS and SYNTHESIS. Imagine a world where we are glued to handheld  devices called Memes that keep us in constant communication and can hail a cab before we leave our offices. The users do not commit the words  they have learnt to their memory instead they relegate that chore to their Memes. As the story goes, the Memes even create and sell words in a digital marketplace called the Word Exchange. 

 Rather than catalog a long litany of the Meme’s dangers, how ever, we will focus on the sphere of our greatest concern: communication. How we write and read. How we listen and speak, including to ourselves. In other words, how we think. It is comforting to believe that consigning small decisions to a device frees up our brains for more important things. But that begs the question, which things have been deemed more important? And what does our purportedly decluttered mind now allow us to do? Express ourselves? Concentrate? Think ? Or have we simply carved out more time for entertainment? Anxiety ? Dread?

We fear that Memes may have a paradoxical effect – that indeed, contrary to Synchronic’s claims, they tend to narrow rather than expand consciousness, to the point where our most basic sense of self-our interior I –has started to be eclipsed. Our facility for reflection has dimmed, taking with it our skill for deep and unfettered thinking. And another change is taking place ;our capacity for communication is fading.

In the extreme cases, Meme users have been losing language. Not esoteric bits of linguistic ebris but everyday words: ambivalence, Paradox, naïve. The more they forget, the more dependent on the device they become, a frightening cycle that only amplifies and that has grown to engulf another of Syndronic’s innovations, the Word Exchange.

The fear is real. The Word Exchange is highly recommended. Alena Graedon is ingenuous and ingenious. It is time for us to save the WORDS from further abuse and misuse otherwise we might be heading towards a dystopian future where words lose their meanings. 

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