One thing is for sure. Any place you go these days, you won’t see people in conversation with one another. Instead they are texting or fiddling with their electronic devices.
Not too long ago, I attended a Palm Springs Film Festival showing which included a Q & A afterwards with Gus Van Sant, the noted film director. I had chosen a seat down front so I could get a good view of the happenings. He was a bit late in arriving so I like everyone else had a few minutes to kill. I turned around to look at the audience. All I could see was a vast body of smart phones texting, Googling and playing electronic games. It was a sea of robotic ecstasy.
I went to a Thanksgiving dinner last year and all the kids and adults were checking their phones between bites of turkey and dressing. It’s the same anywhere you go these days. People are electronically communicating almost continually. Their thumbs are dancing over midget keyboards at a dizzy rate. What could they possibly be talking about?
Since no form of metacommunication exists for email, text messages or Facebook like it does in oral communication, we’ve had to come up with a set of robotic emotions. We call them Emoticons. This word is a combination of emotion and icon. These are pictorial signs we use in our messages instead of body language. The two most important emoticons (read sideways) are a smiley face “:-)” and a boo hoo or sad face “:-(” . Many, many emoticons exist at the moment and new ones are coming into usage daily.
In linguistics, Prosody is that part of oral language which sounds out the features of our utterances. Its three ingredients are rhythm, stress and intonation of speech. We use it to assert our emotional state when we are speaking. Are we making a statement, asking a question or issuing a command? We can also use Prosody to indicate sarcasm, irony, emphasis, focus and contrast. We do this by the loudness, pitch and length of a vowel or syllable. Prosody has nothing to do with grammar and vocabulary.
Writing is devoid of Prosody and can lead to misinterpretation. Therefore, over time we have added commas, exclamation marks, question marks, quotes, underlinings, italics, bold and most recently emoticons.
In sign languages, Prosody involves the rhythm, length and animation of gestures, along with mouthing and facial expressions. The next time you see two deaf people talking, notice how involved their conversation is.
Emoticons have come about due to the necessity of texting being kept simple with a minimum of thumb pecking. (The newest smart phones let you talk your messages so you no longer have to use your thumbs. It has voice recognition and will send your text as a written message in moments.)
Texting itself is like a totally new language. Incorporating emoticons, texting can at best only give a sense of emotions. This new wave of communication has little or no warmth and in time will make us emotionless robots. Participating in this type of communication brings the art of transactions down to an almost modern Neanderthal level. Even if you don’t participate in texting, you have to be aware of it and make an effort to understand what is going on or you will be left in the past of those Pre-Facebook years.
In my book TEDDY BEAR MURDERS, two high school girls are texting one another in a classroom. When I was writing this book, I had the two girls writing an ordinary note in ordinary English and pitching it to the other while the teacher wasn’t looking. My great niece informed me that I was way behind the times. You now text surreptitiously and hit the send button rather than sending your note via student airmail with a quick fling. In such notes of yore, one could sense a bit of emotion and voice. So, with the help of my niece, I edited the note and brought it up to present-day texting standards
Here is the old-fashioned note that I originally wrote. It definitely contained some Prosody, albeit not much:
“Hi Tiffany girlfriend. Miss Haines and her plenty ugly themes are awful, don’t you think? What a laugh! Ha! Ha! Cody keeps looking my way with those baby-blue eyes of his. Man, is he hot and good looking and sexy!!! Put me down for sex with him. He is so cute.”
Here is the same text as it appears in the published edition of my book. This note is dry as toast in spite of the meanings it is trying to get across.
“Tiff—Hi GF. Ms Haines and her PU themes. LOL. Cody keeps throwing me his BBeyes. Man, is he hot! VGL.& 6y. Put me DrSX with him. H is sQte .:-) .”
Overall, texting is the new communication system at the moment. Little wonder we are all becoming robots and that stroking is at an all time low. Yet time and change are the nucleus of living; therefore, we must adapt. One simply cannot complain. Let’s just hope that an entire novel one of these days is not written in text messaging language replete with emoticons.
Even so, we have Kindle and Nook providing us books in electronic tablet form. Will they eventually do away with printed books as we know them? What does the future hold? It’s better not to try and answer that. Just make sure you’re keeping your head above water and not drowning in the past.
With the advent of Facebook and other social media, the world of communication has changed drastically in recent years. Social media is nothing like it used to be and like it or not, it’s all here to stay. Check in or check out. It’s up to you.