“Nobody reads anymore” is a refrain that crops up regularly. But nothing could be further from the truth. Nobody reads books – maybe; otherwise just look around you: there’s a young woman reading avidly off her Kindle; an executive is researching online for his next presentation; and that group of teens is simply checking mail or surfing idly. And yes, they’re reading.
There is a difference, though. It’s all short-attention-span activity, and being connected 24/7 comes with the inevitable distraction, even while using a computer at work, as those little beeps constantly draw you away (“just for a second”) to check out that latest Facebook update or mail inbox or Whatsapp message or whatever.
As far as vocabulary is concerned, technology is a paradox. It has transmutated ordinary words to abbreviations for quick use, such as in SMS communication, and yet has been responsible for the evolution of hundreds of new words.
Some have gone so far as to blame technology for a supposed decline in youth literacy. While some criticisms have merit, others are over the top.
As an example of the latter, Australian demographer and social researcher Mark McCrindle quotes British broadcaster John Humphrys saying texters were “language vandals” who are “doing to our language what Ghengis Khan did to his neighbours 800 years ago, They are destroying it, pillaging our punctuation, savaging our sentences, raping our vocabulary, and they must be stopped!”
It is true though, that the downside to technology and the craze for texting can go too far, and the claim that abbreviations and acronyms used in such technologies are spilling over to damage formal communications is one that requires attention. One famous example pundits like to quote concerns an essay written almost entirely in text-message shorthand by a 13-year-old Scottish girl. Among the indecipherable terms she used was to describe her holidays was CWOT, (“complete waste of time”).
And autocorrecting spellcheck programs often fail to distinguish between right and wrong homonyms, such as “to” and “two”.
So, the next time you see incorrect usage such as “I will right it out”, it could be just the old spellchecking devil at work, not the innocent author whose only crime was that he didn’t proofread his work.