Literacy: Let’s talk about text

The past few years have seen unprecedented technological leaps. We put a fully functioning robot on Mars.  There now exists a photographic technology that with focus the picture after you take it. We’re well on out way to neural controlled prosthetics, aka, Luke Skywalker’s robot hand.

Mobile technology has evolved so far as to have annoying predictive text, and it’s very own shorthand language.

All this was achievable through science. And math. Everything I just listed relies on precise algorithms, programs, coding—mathematical equations. If you get one number off, you’re screwed. Robots explode against asteroids instead of landing on the Red Planet. Cameras start shooting x-rays. Whatever.

Math is a universal language. It is the same in any country. It’s great. I mean, I hate it because I’m not good at it, but it makes the scientific world go ‘round, and I love my gadgets.  There’s a whole educational campaign about getting school kids more involved with math and science.

But, misread a number, or transpose a sequence, and everything goes to hell in a hand basket (I know from experience). It’s not nuanced so much as precise.  Excruciatingly precise. It’s a big deal if you screw it up. Teachers say so, parents say so, and professionals say so. Banks. They say it loudest. Money talks, right? Heaven forbid you read $15.21 in your bank account when it’s actually $15.12 and overdraw by nine cents. BAM. Twenty-five dollar fee for that.

But for some reason, precision in language is not touted as such a big deal. Yes, there are many advocates for proper grammar and punctuation. And yes, there is some ambiguity inherent in grammatical rules. Cross-cultures, things literally get lost in translation.

And yet, there’s no extreme emphasis on literacy. There’s no national campaign for the nuance of words.

Our language, the primary way we communicate, is being eaten alive by shorthand perpetuated through text messaging. It’s being undermined by a flippant society that states no one reads nowadays anyway. What does it matter?

It matters quite a bit. I’m not just talking about the trite grammatical comparison:

“‘Let’s eat Grandma!’ VS ‘Let’s eat, Grandma!’ Punctuation saves lives.”

While grammar and punctuation are extremely important for clear written communication, so is the meaning of words. What I’m saying, my doves—my darling, dearest readers—is that language is every bit as exacting as math.

Anyone who’s ever texted someone and been “corrected” with the phone’s predictive text or autocorrect knows the embarrassment one letter can cause. Typos are just as dangerous.

Don’t get me wrong. I like texting shorthand sometimes as it saves time and energy. But, most of the time, it just becomes confusing to me. There has been more than one occasion when I’ve misunderstood the acronym because I was thinking that it represented a different phrase than the person sending the message. Disaster ensued.

We treat language so harshly, using it like a blunt object to hammer home a point, when it could be used as a high-precision tool. A laser.

So, while your encouraging your daughter (or son) to pursue a career in the sciences, also teach them the importance of language and grammar.

Advocate for literacy.

Be the laser.

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3 thoughts on “Literacy: Let’s talk about text

  1. This is a very interesting post. I believe in the importance of teaching grammar and punctuation, but I wouldn’t be in favor of a “national campaign for the nuance of words.” Part of what’s so lovely about language is its ability to evolve, and that process requires the misuse of words to fit new contexts.

    • That’s very true. Words can be both precise and finite, as well as living creatures that continually evolve. I guess a campaign for the appreciation of that dichotomy may be more apt.

  2. All communication serves a purpose, even when we don’t necessarily think about it. When someone uses slang, they aren’t being deliberately ignorant; they are efficiently conveying tone and identity with fewer words.

    On one hand, this makes me loosen up when I get the impulse to correct someone’s improper prose. If I understand the message and I still edit it, then all I am is some sort of weird, nearsighted, nerd-bully hybrid.

    On the other hand, even slang loses some of its power if we don’t understand that a rule was broken.

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