Is Technology ‘Dumbing Down’ English?

Every now and then I come across an article lamenting the fact that technological outlets such as SMSing and tweeting have dumbed down the English language. The author would point to the lack of of proper punctuation and spelling, as well as the inanity of the content. As someone who is a stickler for linguistic accuracy, my first instinct is to agree with that line of thought.

However, there is another interesting perspective. John McWhorter writes in the New York Times:

Keyboard technology, allowing us to produce and receive written communication with unprecedented speed, allows something hitherto unknown to humanity: written conversation. In this sense, they are not “writing” in the sense we are accustomed to. They are fingered speech.

This is a really cool insight. Perhaps we shouldn’t think of our instant messaging communication as “writing” at all. We use shorthands and colloquialisms in speech, and instant messaging/tweeting is basically virtual speech.

Of course, there may in fact be a real problem — especially among school kids and college students these days — of writing longhand and also forming grammatically correct sentences. Perhaps the education system needs to be improved. But blaming it on Textspeak? I’m not buying it.


Meanwhile, in Sydney…

The year is 1785. After more than three centuries of cultural, political and technological advancement in continental Europe during the Renaissance, England is leading the way in becoming the first industrial economy in the world. It’s been 10 years since the patenting of the steam engine and 9 years since Adam Smith’s magnum opus, the Wealth of Nations, the forefather of modern free market economics.

The Renaissance was a transformative era. Thanks, Medici family!

I like trains... and the industrial revolution.

Major political developments are also underway. It’s only been two years since the conclusion of the American War of Independence and it will be another three years before the ratification of the historic and influential United States Constitution. It would only be another four years before radical social and political upheaval engulf France, heralding the First Republic and the rise of Napoleon I.

I was going to make a quip about the Tea Party but I'm not witty enough.

1785 — Louis XVI decrees that all handkerchiefs must be square. No surprise at all about his fate.

The world is an exciting and dynamic place. Meanwhile, in Sydney…

As much as I love living in this beautiful city, man was I glad to get out last year and inject myself with real culture and history.

Why I Love Sunsets

I’m a guy who goes through random fads. For a while in early 2011 I was really into photography. I came into possession of an old iPhone and downloaded Hipstamatic and Instagram and tried to be cool and arty. I even started a Flickr account and told myself I’d upload a new picture every day. Of course, that didn’t last long. One lasting positive I did get out of this passing obsession was an appreciation that photography is all about light. This insight served me well as I went travelling in the second half of 2011, camera in tow.

It’s hard to find a better time for light than sunset. And no, don’t give me any “beauty is in the eye of the beholder” business. I challenge you to find anyone who would prefer the harshness of the midday glare over the soft, warm hue of sunset (or sunrise).

Here are some reasons why I love sunsets:

1. It beautifully illuminates scenery and people

Rainbow over the water in front of San Marco, Venice.

Winter Palace and Neva River in autumn, St Petersburg.

The coloured towers and domes of the Kremlin, Moscow.

The first Iron Lady.

2. The colours are richer

The view from Ørestad metro station, Copenhagen.

A warm summer evening at the Louvre, Paris.

Walking down Manning Road, University of Sydney.

3. You can play with shadows and silhouettes

The view of Williamsburg Bridge from Brooklyn, New York City.

Sunset on the Adriatic coastline, Dubrovnik

Mood: contemplative. At Copenhagen Harbour.

Speeding over the frozen alpine terrain at dusk, in Norway.

Another Voice of Reason

I am a big fan of Ross Gittins at the Sydney Morning Herald because he is one of the few Australian economic commentators who willingly and consistently questions the pro-business, pro-productivity, pro-growth orthodoxy. This is not to say that they are bad things, but rather the political discussion is so dominated by the orthodox view that we lose sight of the bigger picture. Case in point: the push by business people and economists to extend opening hours, allow trading on weekends and public holidays — basically pushing for a 24/7 economy.

It would make the economy more flexible and efficient, they say. On the face of it this doesn’t seem like such a bad proposal. Wouldn’t we just love to be able to go out to the shops — anywhere, anytime — and buy what we need? Certainly, when you come from a place where openings hours are quite limited (say, Sydney) and go to a place that’s 24/7 (say, Shanghai / Hong Kong / New York City) it does seem like you’ve stepped into a magical wonderland.

However, good ol’ Ross is here to snatch us back to reality:

Accepting the economists’ argument that keeping the economy running for more hours in the week is more efficient and so will raise our material standard of living, how exactly will this leave us better off?

Why does being able to buy more stuff make up for husbands and wives being able to see less of each other, having less time with the kids, having a lot more trouble getting together with your friends, and having your day off when everyone else is at school or working?

Why is this an attractive future? Why should our elected representatives reorganise our economy in ways that suit business and promote consumption, but do so at the expense of employees’ private lives?

This is a classic case of business people, economists and politicians urging on us a mentality that prioritises the economic – the material – over the other dimensions of our lives. Yet again, no one pauses to ask what these ”reforms” will do to our relationships.

It’s great to have access to 24-hour goods and services — as long as we’re not the ones behind the counter. How can it possibly be good for the personal and family lives of those poor people? More critical thinking (read: more than just the economic) is needed before we dive into the breach.

Laughing at Mitt Romney’s expense

The 2012 Republican presidential primaries is a long, bewildering, frustrating, complex, shocking affair. Right now it consists of several rich, middle-aged white men fighting for the lowest denominator, over who is the most ‘conservative’ and therefore the deserved candidate to tackle President Obama this November. Needless to say it has not been an edifying spectacle. We should be very alarmed about what the leading candidate(s), Mitt Romney and Rick Santorum have to say about economic policy, energy policy, religious matters, women’s rights — basically anything that comes out of their mouths.

On a positive note, the ridiculousness of the primaries is providing a rich source of comic fodder. In the spirit of April 1 I would like to focus on two particularly creative ones lampooning Mitt Romney. Both play off his (deserved) reputation as a flip-flopper and politician of shaky convictions.

The first is ‘A Quantum Theory of Mitt Romney‘, which is brilliant if you have a physics background but still hilarious even if you don’t.

The second is Will The Real Mitt Romney Please Stand Up, an ingenious mashup to the tune of Real Slim Shady. It was made by an Aussie, of all people.