Doing Your Mind

Research, comments and musings about active minds.

Text creole?

Sunday morning, a couple of weeks ago, I was listening to a radio show in which they had a discussion about the communication skills of young people today. All of the discussants were men, none of them young, and were making fairly typical complaints about the inability of young people to express themselves clearly or eloquently, their apparently increasing dependence on mediating technology and the manner in which the limitations of that technology (or perhaps the changes it has brought to culture) have squandered the wealth of expressive resources with which free flowing natural language endows us. (One of the speakers delightfully pointed out that whenever he reads a message composed on a blackberry it’s like reading a ransom note.)

I’ll confess to periodically sharing such a dour perception of people’s ability to communicate (particularly when, as at the moment, I find myself reading tens of undergraduate essays on some topic in Cognitive Psychology). It is continually noted, of course, that these views have been held by the older generation for at least as long as people have been bothering to keep histories and civilisation has not quite managed to collapse yet. I wonder if what we are witnessing might be understood as the creation of some form of creole in which whatever forms of expression available (technologically mediated or otherwise) are inducted.

Oftentimes sending a text message for me is akin to wearing a strait jacket, but I didn’t grow up with a phone in my hand. With the right kind of practice and shared experience, can 160 characters (or 120) be enough? How rich a medium can texting, or twittering be? For an enactivist, the medium of communication is important, but the agent’s intentions and their skills in interacting with the world mould the affordances available in the medium itself.

I’ll confess I still have my doubts, and the fact that generations continually regret seeing familiar mistakes being made by their offspring doesn’t mean that those mistakes are not being made, nor that they are somehow unavoidable or unimportant. But when experiences are sufficiently shared, or universal, the tiniest of movements can carry the weightiest of messages.


As it happens, I’ve just started reading McCarthy & Wright’s (2007) Technology as Experience. In that, they cite Katz & Aarkhus (2002), who apparently have given some time to the relationship that young people have with texting. They found (rather unsurprisingly) that people put a deal of effort and care into the formulation of a text, and consider the perspective of the recipient in the framing of the message.

Katz, J. E., & Aakhus, M. (2002). Perpetual Contact: Mobile Communication, Private Talk, Public Performance. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

McCarthy, J., & Wright, P. (2007). Technology as Experience. Cambridge, Mass: MIT Press. 

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