I chat, therfore I write

I cut my typing teeth on the computer, or more specifically, I was forced to learn how to type by using on-line messengers and on-line chat rooms. Watching the text of other chatters fly by while I tried to finger out some witticism was a very motivating experience. Chatters seemed so quick and clever with their repartee. All I could do was implore them to “wait please. Can’t type well”
Now anyone who chats with me online knows what an appalling typist I am. I’m slightly dyslexic anyway and I still don’t know the proper fingering required for fast and legible typing .I still can’t spell very well and I’m still pretty slow on the keyboard.
But I can chat.

High school typing class was for not-very-ambitious (usually female) future secretaries as far as I was concerned. I loved to write and produced volumes of journals, stories and even cartoons in my chicken-scratch long hand. I could read my own writing then and it only had to be legible to me.
And I’ve always loved conversation; chit chat, yakking , debating, pitched battles over the dinner tables, or just plain shooting the shit.

So I moseyed along for years without ever having to type and I managed to steer well clear of that vortex of time-wasting and digital isolationism – my boyfriend’s computer.
Then he left. But he left a spare computer behind. I had already learned the bare basics of getting online if only to view my boyfriend’s cache of sites featuring sexy men on display. But that only required a rudimentary understanding of the mouse and the occasional typed words like, say, “hot bears in briefs”. It took long minutes of tortured concentration, but I could eventually type anything if there was a sexy picture at the other end.

Left alone and boy friendless and with no experience in meeting men for eleven years, I turned to that spare computer. I was amazed to discover that there was a whole society of people who met and even formed relationships completely on-line. All one needed was to sign up for messenger service and learn how to chat.

Today I have dozens of ‘pals’ on my various messengers and I’ve developed some very important new relationships (and saved some older ones) thanks to on-line chatting.

There are different protocols depending on the chatter, but generally its like talking on the phone with some notable exceptions.

Everything is typed! Does it even occur to kids these days that not all of us predicted that the computer would become the western world’s SOLE vehicle of information communication? They all know how to type, these young ins’, and they can surf the web before they can draw a stick-man with a crayon.

There are as many codes and short-hands as there are chatters .In fact, it’s obvious – and not an original idea of mine by a long shot – that ‘chat’ is producing it’s own dialect. A hybrid of the written word and spoken conversation.

There are many language pundits who complain that our writing skills are dissolving. Some others embrace the introduction of new phrases form various ethnic subcultures, but nobody seems to be examining how ‘chat’ might be affecting both our conversation and they way we write. Someone should. It’s a gold mine. Chat short-hands like ‘ LOL’ or ‘CYA’ are already being used more and more in e-mail corespondents but never seem to show up in print.

In The New Yorker, Louis Menand writes a somewhat scathing review of Lynne Truss’s book ‘ ‘Eats, shoots and leaves’ about the decline of proper punctuation pointing out that Truss is not only incorrect about the rules of punctuation, her book is rife within egregious punctuation errors.Wow. That’s a shocker to me. I tend to accept as Hoyle anyone’s opinion who has actually published something.

‘Eats, shoots and leaves’ seems to be concerned mostly with, for example, the effects of the text on sidewalk signs on our use of punctuation.But It was the latter half of Lewis Menand’s review, a provocative analysis of the writer’s ‘voice’, which had me thinking.

Menand tries to clarify the distinction between a writer’s voice, their ‘persona’ and actual spoken conversation. The conetention is that a writer can never write the way they speak because, for one thing, the words and sentences a writer marks down are usually the result of painstaking editing and finessing. Menand further points out that some writers don’t make the best conversationalists.

“There are writers loved for their humor who are not funny people, and writers admired
for their eloquence who swallow their words, never look you in the
eye, and can’t seem to finish a sentence. Wisdom on the page
correlates with wisdom in the writer about as frequently as a high
batting average correlates with a high I.Q.: they just seem to have
very little to do with one another. Witty and charming people can
produce prose of sneering sententiousness, and fretful neurotics can,
to their readers, seem as though they must be delightful to live with.”

But what about all this ‘chatting’ going on? It’s more than just typing, more than just conversation, it’s writing. I think someone ought to take a very close at this new powerfull tool and how it’s influencing both how we converse and how we write. Thesis anyone?

But then it would end up in the dusty achieves of academia.
So I blog about a writer reviewing another writer who has written about the way we write.
But I think my typing may be getting better…

Menand’s review: http://www.newyorker.com/printable/?critics/040628crbo_books1

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