Sunday, March 8, 2009


Fuck you. You piece of shit stain I wish you'd been aborted. :)

But not really. I don't really mean "Fuck you", more like "Dang you!" or "Grrr...You!" And I'm quite happy you were born. Don't get offended. If I'd really meant to hurt you I wouldn't have smiled. "Fuck you. You piece of shit stain I wish you'd been aborted." ...Wow, that looks so mean. Maybe I should put the smiley back in to take the edge off so you'll understand that I'm only mildly annoyed, and my attack was actually meant to be an aw-shucks punch in the arm. Don't you see the irony? Are you getting confused? Maybe I shouldn't have made that statement in the first place.

Yes, that is the answer: Don't say anything unless you mean it. Indeed, adding :) ;) :( :| or :\ colours the statement to clarify our tone, but it's a lazy form of clarity. Emoticons attempt to approximate the nuances of speaking in person, where what we say is finely adjusted by how we say it: "Fuck you" with a wink means something different than "Fuck you" with furrowed brow; we can express that through typing as "Fuck you ;)" or "Fuck you >:|". But really, who wants to read that? Has this pesky phenomenon infiltrated us so deeply that our handwritten letters are a combination of text and drawn happy faces? Oh wait... who writes handwritten letters any more? I fear the day when students riddle their academic papers with :). I fear that that day has already arrived. I urge teachers and editors to reject the use of emoticons in written materials unless that material is casual and on MSN, lest hell run rampant. But really, we've been in hell since we learned to txt how r u 2 each other, and all I can do is LOL. IMHO. We now have a zeitgeist malady known as BlackBerry Thumb, where people's fingers, hands, and necks are aching from too much texting. To combat this ergonomic epidemic we've been advised to forsake proper spelling and use abbreviations. I'd rather break my thumbs.

There was a time when our written communication was more considered, more precise and deliberate. Irony was expressed through careful and artful rhetoric instead of emoticons. We relied on our proficiency with plain speak rather than short-hand trifles. We were less lazy not long ago. We now lack conviction, where we add :) after "I look forward to seeing you" for extra enthusiasm, as if the :) suggests a deeper level of sincerity. Another form of this thin profundity is !!!!!!!!!!, which suggests extra extra extra excitement. Whether it's :) or !!!!!!!!!! the intention is the same: we want the reader to understand that we are excessively thrilled to see them. In practice, the appendages suggest a mistrust between writer and reader; the writer attempts to narrow the risk of misinterpretation and believes the emoticon and abundant punctuation will clarify their attitude. On the other hand, a statement stated simply honours the intelligence of the reader and trusts that interpretation will be accurate. How lovely: "I look forward to seeing you."

As much as the computer has evolved our language, keeping it vital and adaptable, it has also drained our confidence. Word processors have plunged us into a cut-and-paste purgatory, where a final draft is produced only after thousands of strokes of the delete key. When we write with a word processor, we are performing a textual hem-and-haw. Time and effort is wasted as we labour endlessly with on-the-spot revisions. We doubt ourselves. We suffer from indecision. Why? Because we can. We have no risk. Computers have made our actions correctable; we approach tasks with a wish-washy attitude. One analogy of how technology has corrupted our conviction is filmmaking. When we make movies with film, we shoot fewer takes because film is expensive. When we make movies with digital video, we are tempted to shoot innumberable takes because tapes are (generally) cheaper than film. When we use computers for writing, filmmaking, drawing, designing, photographing... we feel less pressure to get it right the first time. Oh, Undo, you are our best friend and best fiend.

The overwhelming majority of the world's great literature -- and horrible literature, too -- was written by hand and pen on paper. Certainly handwritten works also undergo numerous drafts and revisions, but the process of writing by hand -- rather than by word processor -- affords a clarity, an efficiency, a concision that computers have befuddled. Douglas Coupland stated that he enjoys writing by hand because he considers himself lazy, and using a pen requires physical effort. In order to avoid crippling his hand, he would rather write as few words as necessary. This so-called laziness forces his mind to think clearly so that he can write concisely.

Writing by hand means making visible, often indelible marks. There is permanence in writing by hand, which means the stakes are higher. When we write "I didn't mean to offend you :)", the emoticon behaves as a delete key, providing the writer with a safety net so as to really not offend the reader: Here is a smiley-face to delete any remnant of offense in case you are still offended (even though "I didn't mean to offend you" should be clear enough, but y'know, I don't really trust your interpretation of my statement so... here's a smiley-face. Just in case). The same occurs with "Fuck you :)" -- the smiley-face deletes sincerity. Emoticons and computers encourage passive aggressiveness, where we say something impassioned but undermine it (or overcompensate) with superfluous icons and abbreviations. I would rather receive "I love you" than "i luv u".

It's far too easy to send texts and e-mails. The act of communication has become disposable; therefore, our words have become disposable. Moreover, our actions have become disposable. We have become aggressively passive. We lack conviction in our actions and have weakened our determination. I admit that I now socialise with less effort than years ago. When I go to a party, I no longer feel the same pressure as before to make the best impression (whatever that is) or have the fullest conversation (whatever that is) with a person. And if I leave without saying goodbye, or that person leaves before I can say farewell, I am not worried. I can find them on Facebook the next day to say goodbye or hello or punctuate an encounter that was left elliptical. You do it too :(.


Anonymous said...

i snd u txts like this all the time. im not gonna change 4 u!!

Norman Yeung said...

Haha! I was so worried that I'd offend my many friends who use emoticons and abbreviations and stuff. I'm actually totally cool with it, so keep sending me ur txt mssgs :). I love seeing language evolve, but I also lament the loss of, um... everything before now. I'm just a fuddy-duddy. I'm more an "analog girl in a digital world" than Erykah Badu herself.

Peace 4 eva!!!!!!!!