By Dr. Rosalie S. Owens
Faculty, English at American Public University
From cave paintings to pictograms and on to the alphabet, humans have been communicating with one another for ages. Or have they?
Was there clear communication of what the cave paintings and pictograms and ideograms meant, or did one person find a meaning in them and the next person something different? Without clear understanding, are we communicating? What impact does all of this have on our literature?
The tools used to communicate have changed over time. For example, I ran into my seventh grade English teacher the other night and, as we spoke, I was able to tell her how much she influenced my becoming an English instructor. She taught me all about the use of commas and how to construct a proper sentence. We discussed how conventions of proper writing are becoming more and more absent from student writing. I mentioned that they are also missing from some published books and internet communications. She shook her head as we continued our discussion about where writing is headed and how it will influence the literature of the future.
Towards the end of the conversation she asked for my contact information. I handed her one of my cards that has my email and web address. She looked at it and then asked for my mailing address. Though most people are using Facebook, Instagram, texting, email, etc. to communicate, there are those who are left out of the conversations because they do not use these technologies.
Technologies aside, there are some who would have a difficult time reading a text from my friend Michael. It is common practice when texting and tweeting to not capitalize the first word of a sentence. For that matter sentences are often not used and neither are vowels or periods. He is a pro at sending messages with words (I use that term lightly) such as gn, tsk, or pblc. It takes me some time to figure out what he is saying.
Is this clear communication? Is this what we are going to see in pieces of literature in the future or should there be different conventions used for our instant messages as opposed to formal literary writing?
Complicating these questions further, the tools and methods for communicating seem to be evolving once again. Enter the emoji.
We used to use symbols on our keyboards to express our feelings, such as a smile 🙂 or a wink 😉 or we just simply wrote out the word “smile”. We now have sophisticated symbols called emojis.
Using emoticons and emojis can be fun and may enhance our communication, but can also confuse it. Just what does a wink mean–flirting, joking, conspiring, agreeing, or lying?
Emoji can also be a visual typo like a friend of mine who sent an email but accidentally clicked on the wrong emoticon so, instead of crying about the bad news she had received, she was laughing. How embarrassing.
So, though the tools for communication have and are evolving, we need to be sure that the person on the other end is receiving the message that we are intending.
I suggest that there are appropriate and inappropriate times and ways for us to communicate with pictures instead of words:
- Never use emoticons for business
- Make sure the emoticon you are using actually says what you want to say
- Use them sparingly
- Say the word and use the picture to enhance the communication instead of simply using the emoticon
During my time teaching English, I have seen a decline in the use of proper writing to communicate. I am not sure if it is because there is less classroom time devoted to these skills, the advent of the computer and short modes of communicating, or a lack of discipline to write correctly. I do not know exactly what it is, but I do know that I am disturbed at the lack of capitalizes words and basic punctuation.
We have evolved in our communication technology from pictures made with rocks on stones to pictures made with computers on paper. This shorthanded communication may not cease, but I wonder if this evolution is helping or hindering our efforts to communicate.
About the Author
Dr. Rosalie Owens is an associate professor of English at American Public University. She has been teaching English, communication, and leadership for nearly 20 years for various colleges and universities. She earned both her bachelor’s degree in Communication and master’s degree in English from Northern Arizona University. She earned her Doctorate in Strategic Leadership from Regent University.