ISSUE 110 APRIL 2008 CONTENTS HOME PAGE
Talking like text
I get in the taxi at the airport wanting just to go home.
“What’s the postal code?” the driver asks.
I wonder why he is asking but I tell him anyway. (Hey, some of us are overly compliant).
He plugs it into his Global Positioning Device and tells me my address. As we drive home he follows the map on his little screen which, when the time is right, speaks out to him about left and right turns and how far until his next action is required. “We expect to be there in 28 minutes,” he tells me.
We arrive right on time. But he stops on the wrong side of the street. His machine didn’t know the houses were numbered differently here.
There is no way to let it know.
I receive a text message from my niece. “CU sn” it says. “Bwl. Kp cl.”
‘What is she saying?’ I wonder to myself. Text language, I know. But not my daily fare. I pronounce it out slowly. See- you- soon. Be- well. Keep- cool. Why didn’t she just say that? Efficiency, I think. Busy life, jumping from one moment to the next and then moving on. What happened to taking a minute to write? ‘She did’, someone tells me, later when I am complaining like an old man.
“Choose one to talk to an operator,” the phone barks at me as I am waiting to pay my bills by telephone. “For a more efficient service visit www.ourservice.com” the robot repeats for the one thousandth time today. “If it is more convenient for you, you can just say ‘operator’’ it hints. “Operator” I say, because none of the available options fit my question. Another robot responds. Where are the people? Maybe they are managing the website. But when I go on-line, the program tells me to call. Help!!
How can I ‘communicate’ with a machine?
I am thinking I do not know how to talk to anyone anymore. I am used to, well, sentences: full sentences; subject, verb, and all that stuff that was drilled into me so many years ago.
Who knows what people are saying nowadays?
Gets me to wondering, it does. Do I really know – well, okay, ‘do we really know’ - what people are saying when they talk to us?
“Was’up, Thom?’ Carla asks as I walk into the room where she is busy on the chat line. What does she mean, really? Is it a question or a greeting? How should I respond? Should I even respond?
Don’t get me wrong. I am not stupid – well, not terribly stupid anyway – but I do wonder if I understand what is being said to me these days.
So, I ask Kelly about it.
She sends me the following . . . idunno. hru? Im hanging 2day with my bf and my bff. snowing a lot. imsb kwim? If i see the cat fall off that table again i will be roflmao, iykwim. hth tlk2ul8r.K.
Now I don’t know if I know what she means either. ‘What is she saying?’ I wonder as I scratch a thinning head. (SMHID)
Young people ‘talk’ to us all the time. They speak, we listen and then we respond. But somewhere between the speaking and the responding something else happens as we try to make sense of what we think we heard. And yes, I realize that I just said ‘think we heard’. Because, it seems to me, that is all we can do. We can never know what was said, only what we think we heard.
I was having an email exchange with a friend the other day and she asked if I was annoyed? I wasn’t. But when we use forms of electronic communication which are so popular today we do not have some of the elements of context which we often use in helping us to interpret what is being said verbally. The flippant remark, accompanied by a smile; the question which comes with sad eyes; the comment which interrupts the middle of our sentence.
In many ways, for example, internet communication is much more linear than our normal conversations – after all, the sentence is not sent until we complete it and push send – whereas in normal conversation (sorry about the word normal) the other person often speaks, makes a gesture, acknowledges when we are part way through our sentence.
Imagine this for a moment.
T and K are having an internet ‘chat’. T is annoyed. ‘u r ssinf’ he enters and presses send. (You are so stupid it’s not funny).
K responds with anger, as well she might.
Now imagine this.
T and K are having a face to face conversation. T is annoyed. “You are so . . .” he starts
“Don’t go there,” K interrupts holding up her hand like a stop sign.
T stops and the insult is never delivered.
Sometimes, unfortunately, when I watch the communication between worker and young person, it looks more like a linear text communication, to me, than a real dialogue. Worker gets a thought, forms the words and ‘presses send’ and the words come out – no opportunity for interruption, no consideration of context, no thought of hesitation based on spontaneous feedback.
One of the things that has happened for myself and a number of my friends is that, over time, we have become more mindful of how electronic communications might be interpreted on the other end. I know I sometimes ask myself ‘how might this be interpreted?’ And sometimes, based on my answer to myself, I re-word how I was going to ‘say’ it.
I just gotta say, “Sometimes I wish we took the same consideration when talking to young people’.