Salad Text

Smart phones have changed the easy e do business, to putt it mildly. i Swype with my druid and voice text orvoice tore sulk the tinge.

Come again?

Smart phones have changed the way we do business, to state the obvious. I use the Swype keyboard app or the voice feature on my Droid (not druid, though it is a druidic phone, in my opinion), so I’m forever making gross errors. I typically use the voice feature while driving – friends don’t let friends text and drive – so correcting errors is rarely an option. Worse still, voice texting ignores vocal inflection, so my texts don’t include punctuation such as question marks. Forget about parsing homophones.

Consequently, my texts look like salad talk or “word salad,” that unintelligible, jumbled language of mental instability. In the techno-age, my Droid and I are schizophrenic. Together we babble.

A colleague told me recently that we no longer answer the phone with, “How are you?” We now ask, “Where are you?” This metamorphosis is curious if you think about it figuratively rather than literally. It reflects our ontological homelessness, the malaise caused by the “housing crash” and giving rise to the national “occupy movement.” Our national homelessness, and all it entails culturally, preoccupies me.

The shift in greeting extends Joshua Meyrowitz’s famous thesis in No Sense of Place, which claims that new technology (television, in this case) erodes the social boundaries of space and place, thereby creating profound changes in our social behavior. For Meyrowitz, television reveals what’s behind social curtains, demystifying inner circles, democratizing spaces, and unmooring us from places, so that social boundaries are eliminated. The big reveal, the “behind the scenes,” transforms stages, social roles, and social scripts, making us all part of a new drama (to speak in dramatistic and symbolic interactionist terms). True or not, it’s provocative nonetheless. Perhaps instead we just yearn for access to everything that is now visible but still unattainable; we feel all the more entitled to more and all the less content with our place. We cut ourselves adrift in our discontent.

In a different vein, my gmail and work email get “pushed” to my phone now. Or, more accurately, I have it pushed. I’m not entirely sure what does the pushing (whatever force it is on the other side of the interface, I suppose). This interminable pushing makes me on call. It means that I am available 24/7, and I have no sense of boundaries. Indeed, the pixelated, digitzed boundaries of folders, alert ringtones, and icons that separate my email in different data streams are mere artifice.

In practical terms, this affects my professional interactions. For years, I complained about students who used text-speak in their emails and failed to follow email etiquette. Now I email from behind a steering wheel on my Droid, guilty of all my Droidian slips, improperly parsing my message, a word salad spoken hastily at red lights and sometimes even green ones.

I speak druidic now, but my students understand, even if my colleagues don’t.

Leave a Reply