Looking for another article to stow in your Reading List or Saved Links, never to be heard from again? The Awl has delivered another gem (so what else is new?): I'm Becoming a Slack-fingered Idiot and I Guess That's Fine is a really smart, scary, amusing piece by John Hermann about a weird side-effect of the ongoing process of brain-hand-phone fusion: lazy, sloppy typing becoming perfectly acceptable in text-based communication.
After years of hanging on to not using text abbreviations as if it were something to be proud of, I have come to realize that, as in all things to do with language, the intensity of a purist impulse correlates directly with a failure to understand the way things actually are. One person's evolution is another's degradation. Lately, I've noticed that a lot of my correspondents have stopped sending post-script texts ("California roll, not colonoscopy ride") to correct their autocorrected phrases, and I'm slowly doing the same. Hermann gets the heart of it:
Chat, like instant messaging, seems to allow for a looseness not always permissible over email, where you can’t immediately jump in with elaboration. It also encourages volume. Typing into a chat is less like sending a message than jumping into a stream, or chiming in to a verbal conversation. A point is made or a purpose conveyed through a dozen short messages and responses instead of a single encompassing email. Timing matters as much as anything.
This has always been true of chat and instant messaging, and has been reflected in the new and fresh language we use on them. But now, with the similar and nearby experience of chatting and communicating on a phone, often without words, I feel a new pressure. The keyboard, which I’ve been mashing for twenty years, has begun to feel like an obstacle. After two decades of learning how to type better, I’ve started typing worse.
I don’t mean slower, or with more typos. I mean nonsense. Typgnuig like thsi. Mashging my fingers luike theyr made otu of rubber. Jsut pummlegin the keybords with al thw wrong fingers, enver even giving my hafns the time to fing the righ position.
This article posits an even stronger drift—toward blatant misspelling and gibberish that is nonetheless intelligible—and suggests the possibility that we are generally moving away from language and toward a kind of intention- and possibly intuition-based mode of communication. Which is an oddly alluring prospect in a certain way (especially if you've seen Ex Machina), except for one problem: If you think "tone" is hard to read in text messages, just imagine what it will be like trying to parse the various shades of meaning encoded in telepathy.