Understanding text and its depreciation

Text surrounds us, in many different forms and spaces. I would argue that text, as part of our language, has become the victim of improper usage and depreciated in value over the years of its transformation. Once an elegant delivery of art, as evidenced by the infamous author T.S. Elliot, has been rapidly replaced by “lol “and “l8r”, typed at warp speed by teenage and adults alike. Like Postman, I always conceptualized text as something formal, either found in textbooks or letter writing as a child, to be taken as the truth (Postman, 1992). As I grew up, I learned that text can be changed, manipulated and delivered in many different medias. My use of formal letter writing became the informal short messages of MSN. My next level of transformation took place in form of the cell phone, where we could text one another through SMS. Now, as I write this response, I have been so empowered by technology that I am texting who is available to go out for dinner tonight.

What I find most disconcerting is our current use of emoticons in these text messaging systems. Popularized by social culture, it is replacing language as a whole in order to get our feelings out. As Vosloo mentions, we are in fear of our language under assault (Vosloo, 2009, p 2). I would argue we are at war with these emoticons, trying to trample our written language of “elated with joy” into a simple representation of ā€œ:Dā€. These emoticons are the bane of our existence. Patterson suggests that emoticons affect the way we communicate in a written format, changing our writing style unfathomable to older generations. Our ability to construct meaningful sentences cannot give in to the visually enticing pictorial characters. In fact, I am largely curious in understanding the full extent in how these emoticons affect our way of written communication. Perhaps, should this trend of emoticons to continue, I prefer we go back into the earliest style of text, Egyptian calligraphy, to represent our true feelings.

iPhone emoticons - Emoji

Retrieved from:
Flickr Creative Commons. 2009. http://www.flickr.com/photos/marcopako/3220633957/

Patterson, A. (2012). Digital Youth, Mobile Phones and Text Messaging: Assessing the Profound Impact of a Technological Afterthought. In Belk, R. and Llamas, R. (eds), The Routledge Companion to Digital Consumption, London: Routledge.

Postman, N. (1992). Technopoly: The surrender of culture to technology. New York: Vintage Books.

Vosloo, S. (2009). The effects of texting on literacy: Modern scourge or opportunity? In an issue paper from the Shuttleworth Foundation.

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7 Responses to Understanding text and its depreciation

  1. kstackhouse says:

    Great post! I agree that the use of emoticons is being relied on too often. I know that some people choose to use them in e-mails. They do this because at times what we write might not be received as the way we intended. So, like you said, instead of taking the time to fully express ourselves we rely on the symbol as a clue to the ready.

  2. tavenia says:

    I have never thought of emoticons this way. I’m so guilty!

    I often use emoticons in emails and have started in discussion posts because as others have said, I don’t want to be misunderstood. I find that with emails and electronic correspondence we can often offend the reader because our text is not accompanied with our tone. We put so much emphasis on sarcasm, or perhaps that’s just me, and I would argue that it is far too easy to mis-read something than it would be to mis-hear it.

    See, have I done it again, do you understand me? Oh boy!

    • rockylam says:

      I agree with you completely. Sometimes, writing emails to parents is really hard without some form of emoticons. You don’t want to sound like a pest because their child didn’t hand in the homework, but at the same time, you want to be a professional, and writing in formal language. This, like you said, can sometimes lead to miscommunication. I find myself writing šŸ™‚ a lot more in agendas/diaries because I feel you can be more informal due to the limited space it provides.

  3. Ginelle Stutt says:

    Hi Rocky! Thanks for making me re-evaluate emoticons – wow! I agree and disagree; I don’t use emoticons very often but when I do, I’m always amazed at the range of emotional feel. I would never tell someone that I feel sheepish, and yet with an emoticon, this can be delivered so swiftly and the recipient could possibly have a better sense of my feeling than it if I had tried to write it out. Having said that, more communication with actual words/voice can do the trick with much less artifice!

    • rockylam says:

      There are benefits of emoticons šŸ™‚
      Sometimes I use :S to express my emotions too.
      I just hope our reliance on emoticons does not hinder our ability to communicate effectively šŸ™

  4. cmck says:

    Hi Rocky,
    Depending on which hat I’m wearing, I have two opinions about your ideas.


    I too love the elegance of a well-written piece of text, which is why I am also bothered by the use of text-message and instant messenger abbreviations. Smilies don’t bother me as much, but I’m still not thrilled with them. Will we ever have another Shakespeare again?

    I try to use smilies as little as possible, and I’ll use text-message abbreviations only once every year or two.


    The English language is not prescribed even though there are conventions that distinguish one portion of society from another. Thus, the language is always changing, and in some ways, it’s interesting to see that change happening.

    It’s not like abbreviations are new, either. We use contractions and abbreviations all the time. What we are seeing now are abbreviations that are new to us and that can remix our systems for representing sound. When it’s said out loud, “l8r” does just as good a job at representing the word as “later” does.

    As for emoticons, they are around because they serve a useful purpose. As you said, tone is difficult to express in writing. Even the best writers struggle with it. Teaching students how to analyse and create tone is one of the last levels of analysis I do with them because they need to know how to analyse so many other components first. Even then, the best of us can still disagree on the tone that one of Shakespeare’s characters takes when delivering a line. What’s interesting is that the emoticon is going back to the pictorial form of written communication because the alphabet is just not able to do a good enough job on its own.


  5. Danielle Dubien says:

    Hi Rocky,

    I’m not a big user of emoticons, but I’m not against their use either, except in professional contexts. The reason I’m not against them is that I don’t believe everything has to be expressed with words. In fact, when there’s an interview on TV where someone is clearly ecstatic, I get annoyed when they get asked to put into words how they feel. Is it not obvious? Does everything need to be spelled out? Sure, it’s important to know how to express yourself with words and to ask for clarification when it’s necessary, but it’s just as important to be able to express and interpret emotions in ways that don’t involve words.

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