The Language Model h4z ch4g3d

I just attended Back-To-School Night for my High School son. One of the counselors used a cartoon as a way of introducing a discussion on the use of mobile phones in class. In the cartoon, two kids are busy texting away, completely oblivious to their surroundings and to the fact that they are sitting right next to each other. The counselor added a funny remark, and the audience laughed in agreement, as if to respond “we all understand how kids are texting these days, and what a crazy thing that is.”

Many parents, and most of my peers share this observation and conclude with regret that kids today do not communicate well.  I have a different view. I believe the kids today are actually extremely effective communicators. It is simply that the language model has changed, and the methods of communication have evolved.

I view this as similar to how my grandparents lamented the fact that “no one writes letters anymore”.  Just because hand-written letters had gone out of fashion, in no way meant that people were not communicating effectively, or with any less intimacy.  The model had simply evolved.  Email eventually replaced the written letter.  This is not to say that the change was an absolute improvement, free of any challenges.  Indeed, early email communications were often misunderstood due to lack of tone, or emotion.  But standards developed, which helped clarify and fill in the missing pieces.   For example, witness the rise of “emoticons”, the use of semicolons and other punctuation marks as a method of conveying “smiley faces” and other emotions.  Writing in all-caps is now universally understood as yelling.

Texting has not only followed this evolution pattern, but put it on a fast-track to even speedier communications.  Emoticons are now shortcut icons.  The recipient quickly understands tone and the message via a few simple pictures.  Further, not only have the communication and language models changed, but the alphabet itself is in the process of evolving.  Spelling has been altered, with the number 3 used for the letter E, 4 used for the letter A, Z is used to abbreviate the endings “es” and “ies” — these are all shortcuts, used to communicate more quickly.  The younger generation rapidly adopts these changes, and texting recipients appear to understand their meanings quite clearly.

So, I don’t share the pessimism or confusion of my peers.  I embrace the change, and adopt where appropriate in order to improve the effectiveness of my own communications.  Obviously, I’m not texting the CEO of my company with “Hwz u like the l4test r3port?”  But texts to my children often include simple changes in the language model, such as  😉 or “How r u?”

I’m reminded of the David Bowie lyrics from the song Changes:

And these children that you spit on
As they try to change their worlds
Are immune to your consultations
They’re quite aware of what they’re going through

Turn and face the stranger!  😉

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