Thursday, September 08, 2005

Welcome to "im here"--and reflections on the blog title

Greetings and welcome to "im here," a blog focusing on how technology affects creativity and communication in the English language. In this blog, I'll explore multiple facets of this topic, from how email, IM, the Web, new software and other new media are changing the way we write and edit and talk to each other in the English language to how technologies affect creative pursuits, particularly writing.

I'll be exploring more in later posts, so I won't get too far into the topic now. But before I go, I'd like to explore the title of the blog. It's "im here," as in either "I'm here" or "I am here." When I started using instant messaging about a year and a half ago, I was fascinated to watch my written communication patterns on that medium change in many cases to a sort of shorthand, dropping punctuation, capitals, and other such important marks that help along the meaning of sentences in more formal written English. Soon I was using phrases such as "r u there?" and "im here" in IMing with friends and colleagues. I wasn't sure what to think about this.

The English major/grammarian/editor in me was appalled. If I--and people in general--started dropping the very conventions by which clear written communication is most easily understood, would that negatively affect our ability to communicate with others? And would we start to assume that we could communicate using these shorthand formats in other media and genres that wouldn't support this sort of thing, spreading widespread confusion and miscommunication across the earth? What about the thirteen-year-olds who couldn't distinguish between styles, genres, and audiences and assumed their school reports could be written this way as well?

On the other hand, the linguistics/communications researcher in me was fascinated by the way my writing was changing in IM. After all, I knew that there are different levels of formality required by different media and different situations, and most media and genres require slightly different writing styles. When you're chatting with someone on IM, it's more like an informal conversation with someone in person than a formal address to an audience--or, in the written genres, than to an article or research paper. Although the other person in the conversation isn't right there to communicate via non-verbals, they are right there to clarify anything the other participant doesn't understand. Because of that, the medium doesn't need quite as many of the conventions of written English, in the same way that a face-to-face conversation among friends can be peppered with "uh"s and sentence fragments, but still is understood by the participants. And all languages are constantly evolving, whether for better or for worse. It's fun to watch them change.

Besides the grammarian and the communications researcher, the creative part of me that loves to play with words was interested in the possibilities in this new way to use words. I knew that taking away the "rules" or at least using them differently can at times allow for creativity to emerge in new ways and places. Although guidelines for language usage and style are valuable and important in many situations for precise communication to an audience, anyone working in the English field for long realizes that there are strong disagreements among authorities about the most basic building blocks of grammar and style. As a creative writer/fan of word play, I was quick to realize that some fascinating ambiguities in language arise when you write in shorthand, and ambiguities are the playground of the poet. Word enthusiasts can spend enjoyable hours reflecting on the various meanings of "im here"--how it can mean "I'm here," "I am here," and/or "IM here" (as in the acronym for instant messaging).

In the end, although I determined to keep it the style strictly to IM unless there was a good reason to do otherwise, I decided to go on using shorthand when IMing with most people that are used to the medium. The practical side of me realized that to keep the conversation flowing, less keystrokes is better as far as IM is concerned. The other person nearly always asks for clarification if they don't understand what I'm saying. And I have a lot of fun watching for ambiguities and places where the misunderstandings do and don't occur in my IM conversations.

At the same time, I'm always watching for ways this new style of writing will affect other genres and media.

So, on this blog, "I'm here" (punctuation and capitalization included) with my reflections about these and related matters. But on IM, I'll say instead that "im here."

I'd love to hear your comments on my reflections, so keep in touch.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Although it sounds interesting, Ill being taking a break.