Friday - - MIND GAMES -

“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.

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