The following extract is from an assignment I wrote about English and Communication technology, focussing on Instant Messaging [IM]. Though aspects seem outdated it has some underlying points about I believe the internet, and the social realm should not be kept separate from what we perceive as the traditional forms of literact, ie. paper and pen.
English and Communication Technology.
In the last few decades the Internet has become a technological and a social phenomenon. It has become a “fact of life, a way of being in the world, a producer of social subjects that, find it unremarkable, so unremarkable that it seems ‘everybody uses it.’” (Lewis & Fabos. 2005:470) It has allowed new social access, an instant connection to friends through a whole host of digital literacy’s. These new literacy’s have inevitably influenced the English Language.
Writing is socially mediated; in instant messaging, the social aspects are clearly apparent. Indeed, “the maintenance of social relationships has been found to be a central function of online communication networks” (Lewis & Fabos. 2005:475) for sustaining close friendships as well as establishing and maintaining casual ties. Compared to face-to-face conversation, in which one can passively participate by being present, Lewis and Fabos (2005) indicate that with online communication, through instant messaging, the participants must be active in order to receive social benefits. Being able to shift voices and identities, between many instant messaging conversations for many audiences, is needed in order to be a proficient user. Each conversation needs different tones, sympathetic for a close friend or a flirtatious friend to another. Although face-to-face talk can be a performance, “the need to fluidly shift performances from audience to audience is unique to the dyadic yet nearly simultaneous nature of IM.” (Lewis & Fabos. 2005:494)
The Language of the Internet
In the mid 1970s, the technology became publically available, which enabled numerous more networks to be established. In the late 1980s this technology was beginning to be used in other countries, “eventually allowing computers in different parts of the world to communicate directly with one another.” (Goodman & Graddol.1997:107) It was not until the mid 1990’s when Local Area Networks (LANs) were introduced and connected to national networks, it became possible to “establish a direct connection to another person’s personal commuter on the other side of the world.” (Goodman & Graddol.1997:107)
Crystal (2001) created the term ‘netspeak’ and defined it as a type of language “displaying features that are unique to the internet, […] arising out of its character as a medium which is electronic, global and interactive.’ (Crystal. 2001: 18) ‘Netspeak’ is divided into sub-varieties that are related to different communication modes on the Internet. These include, the “language of e-mails” which comprises “functionally distinct elements” that are “central for the identification of e-mail as a linguistic variety,” such as headers, signatures, greetings. (Crystal. 2001: 94, 122) In addition to “the language of chat rooms” with its “highly colloquial constructions and non-standard usages, that characterize this mode of communication. (Crystal. 2001: 148, 165). However Androutsopoulos (2006) suggests that distinguishing there being a ‘language of e-mail’ cannot be entirely accurate; “the vast diversity of settings and purposes of e-mail use outweigh any common linguistic features.” The diverse purposes of e-mail and instant messaging range from political talk, to pray sessions, to friendship talk; thus the linguistic patterns go beyond whatever can be easily classed as a typical linguistic style. Though it may be more accurate to study the linguistic variation in the different social interaction on the Internet.
Digital literacy is multimodal. There is a wide variety of new communication technology; mobile SMS messaging; social networking site, such as Facebook, and Bebo; email; discussion forums and chat-rooms. These new genre’s bring along a new set of literacy skills that are needed to be able to read and write across these different modes. Literacy has been always multimodal, relying on visual and aural cues at the very least, but now literacy “rely on an increasingly more complex range of modalities.” (Lewis & Fabos. 2005:475) These appear to be more complicated; there is writing alongside images, or writing itself displayed graphically as an image, requiring a set of semiotic skills that are not commonplace in the reading repertoire in today’s schools. However, theses new modes have appeared to become linguistically less complex. There are fewer embedded clauses, “while the visual elements are becoming more [complex], shifting the focus from linguistic features to elements of design.” (Lewis & Fabos. 2005:475) Even linguistically, instant messaging is “multimodal at its core in that it blurs the distinction between speech and writing.”(Lewis & Fabos. 2005:475) With this comes new literacy practices; it requires the reader to read across modes as being a central skill, rather than it merely being a peripheral skill.