Textspeak frustrates me to no end. That there has been a word coined for a non-language bordering on illiteracy irks me even more than seeing “LOL” dropped into emails as punctuation. If I were an English teacher, I would take a well-deserved dollop of joy in assigning zeroes to any essays that crossed my desk featuring any combination of OMG, BRB, b4, Ur, ppl or ROTFLMAO. To wit: “OMG Shkspr’s Jlius Csr is SO LAME!!!! U agree?” I thought I was on the side of the angels until I read about one of the U.S. states deciding to no longer teach handwriting in its public schools. I guess the ppl thought that was SO LAME too. I get that it’s today’s version of shorthand. I understand that it helps you send messages quickly. I don’t understand why you’d want to sound like a squealing teenage girl woozy over her latest Bieber sighting, but there you are. The aim in any form of communication, spoken or written, should be to sound smart. If you can’t deliver your message without abbreviating words to the point of incomprehension, then a rewrite is required. Even on limited platforms like Twitter. Just try harder. You can get there.
The flourishing of textspeak is only a symptom of a larger issue. Both the triumph and the failing of the Internet is that it has become a leveler, in that anyone with access can share their opinions on all number of things. The problem is that not all opinions are equally valid, but the perception has arisen that they should be. “I’m entitled to my opinion,” whines the anonymous message board commenter. If I’m going in for a triple bypass, I want the opinion of the expert in cardiac surgery. I could not care less what the guy who watched a marathon of House reruns thinks.
This hasn’t been helped by a media so terrified of being accused of bias that they have to shove a knuckle-dragger onto the air to offer “the other side” every time a specialist is interviewed. If Neil Armstrong had landed on the moon last week, the news networks would give equal time to the crackpots who claim that it was all shot in a soundstage in Arizona. Jonas Salk would have to share the stage with a faith healer. Bill O’Reilly would insist to Albert Einstein that you can’t explain the universe anymore than you can explain the tides (because Bill doesn’t remember the moon and its gravitation, but I digress). I suppose things have gotten better in that a screaming match on Fox News would be a far merrier fate than that which befell Galileo, but I’d like to think that in 400 years we’ve come a little further than that.
Still, you could forgive this ignorance if behind it all there weren’t a cabal of very smart people looking to keep things that way. The easiest way to win an election is keep your voters dumb and angry. Rupert Murdoch wouldn’t have as much power as he does and be able to influence as many people if his audience was smart enough to know when they’re being played. As I’ve said before, you do have a choice when you’re standing at the supermarket counter to leave that tabloid in the rack where it belongs. But we’re too conditioned to want the fast-food version of the news rather than taking the time to plumb the depths of the story, to look past the talking points and examine the nuance. I have a feeling we would be so inclined were we a better educated, more curious people. But as I said, a lot of people are making a lot of money keeping us stupid so we’ll buy their crap, so I don’t see a mass effort to change this coming anytime soon, at least not from the top.
It has to start with us as individuals. We have to raise our own game and demand the best from ourselves. I won’t say I’m not upset at watching News Corp being hoisted on its petard over the phone-hacking scandal. But it was our fault that they got as far as they did – because we craved more and more cheap news hamburger. I guess my point is, when it comes to food for your mind, suck it up and go for the filet mignon. You are, after all, what you eat.