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Marc Anthony Rosa | Tuesday, November 15, 2011

One sleepless night a few weeks ago, I found myself checking my iPhone every 20 minutes, searching for articles on Twitter that could captivate me while I waited for my brain to turn off. As I thumbed through Twitter, I stumbled across an “Economist” article that pissed me off and made me laugh at the same time.

That Tuesday morning, a random blogger called my social and intellectual being into question. An article titled “Researchers are looking seriously at #Twitter” headlined across my iPhone, a 45-character phrase that reiterates what uncomfortably-nostalgic old people and self-dubbed Neo-Luddists think about MyFacebooks and addicting Internets. I retweeted the post and began reading through the article. Skimming the article, phrases like “Twitter is degrading the English language” and “Our ease with some words is being diluted” were illuminated in front of me, and I sat there laughing and doubting it all. I skimmed to the bottom, scrolled to the top to reread the byline and then began reading the article for the first time.

As a student of the Y-Generation and an active inhabitant of the Twittersphere, in principle I am a dynamite representative of Twitter users whose reading and writing habits are adversely compromised. I found dozens of articles and blogs that talk about how Twitter — the social network that lets you write messages with up to 140 characters — is corroding our syntax and vocabulary with record acceleration. With Twitter’s 140-character limit, users are called to write in compressed sentences and adopt unique language conventions, and somehow because of this, our language is quickly and noticeably worsening. This all sounds like it comes right out of the short story “Flowers for Algernon,” where the protagonist’s intelligence increases but then quickly deteriorates; all the while, the reader watches these changes take place in the form of the main character’s increasing, but then quickly deteriorating, writing quality.

One of the first noticeable things about Twitter is the sentence structure and word quality behind each post. “The Economist” article began by commenting that modern language “is being eroded” due to “a world of truncated sentences, sound bites and Twitter.” Because of that 140-character limit, many authors claim that sentences are shorter and words are less complex. Think eliminating colorful adjectives and adverbs, multi-syllable words and non-staccatic sentences in order to free up precious authorship space. “The Economist” source claims that how we express ourselves and use words is being diluted. The sentence with more than one clause is a problem for us, and the word of more than two syllables is a problem for us.

Many also claim that the Twitter conventions are destroying the subtleties of human conversation. The use of hashtags (#) was initially employed in Twitter to denote a “Trending Topic” which, when first placed before unspaced words, “helps Twitter and its users understand what is happening in the world.” Right now, #HottestPeopleOnTwitter and #ILoveHipHop are two Trending Topics which, in theory, should help you understand what’s happening in the world. And, not only are hashtags wildly used, but the hashtagging convention has evolved as a means through which people preface jokes online. This most likely makes absolutely zero sense to anyone over 25 or for someone not on Twitter (#SorryImNotSorry). But using a “#” followed by unspaced words has somehow become a way users make jokes or express sarcasm, much the same way that different vocal pitches may denote different expressions.

Sentence minimalism comes not just in the form of collapsed words and smaller sentence sizes, but as SMS slang and shorthand notation. The condensing of Laughing Out Loud, writing of “RT” (to denote another Twitter user’s quote) and emoticons in and of themselves are just a few examples of conventions that are supposedly destroying conversations outside of the World Wide Web. Combined with a heavy use of bulleted text, our language theoretically should be in shambles.

LOL. As an avid Twitter user, all of this strikes me as fear found only in sci-fi movies or among those worried about more #RebeccaBlack videos. To RT @mat from Gizmodo, “New technologies change the way we think and interact,” but doesn’t mean that we’ve “lost something as a society.” To think that GenY is in risk of becoming one sentence, two syllble writers who use #s to make funny jokes gives zero credit to the users.

What’s worse is the idea that these Twitter norms are moving into offline convo, like Twitter styles are replacing real dialog. To think that tech affects our grammar, social skills or even sleep cycle for that matter gives rise to the idea that we aren’t in control. The idea that I’ve been ignoring words > than two syllbles or built posts < than 140 char long is fiction only “Flowers For Algernon” could rival. The bottom line is this: Twitter may be here for a while, but we will *never* let Twitter define how we express ourselves. That’s a #failwhale in and of itself, and would be caught well be4 it started to affect what big words we chose or how we compact writings.


Marc Anthony Rosa is a senior management entrepreneurship major. He can be reached at [email protected]

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.