I’m Fine. Full Stops, Technology & Communication

I'm Fine. Full Stops, Technology & Communication

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Technology & Communication

There are countless articles on the rise of digital and technology. I could give you endless stats on how much mobile use has increased XX% since 2011, or how many text messages are sent each day but it’s evident with each passing nanosecond that technology is more firmly rooted in our every-day lives. From the rise of social media, to being the ‘always-on generation’ and spending every minute in our inboxes, to shifting habits of watching television, streaming movies, and listening to music, we aren’t hurtling towards a technological future – we’re already there. Automation too, will play a much larger role in the near-future, redefining the ways we work in terms of increased productivity, potentially meaning we all work fewer hours while our robot helpers pick up the slack. It may be tempting then to want to disown communication with humanity, yet we all know from hearing the horror-inducing “unexpected item in the bagging area,” automation, and technology itself, is not necessarily all positive.

Full Stop.

How many times have you received a text message with a full stop at the end and wondered if the person was annoyed with you?

Hey, still up for meeting later?
See you about 8 then?
See you there.

Hey, still up for meeting later?
Yeah 😉
See you about 8 then?
See you there!

The way technology and digital communication impacts our lives has altered the meaning of that seemingly immutable piece of punctuation: the full stop. The full stop, and written language generally, is undergoing a transition in its move towards more flexibility, with texting and other digital forms of communication starting to possess their own set of stylistic norms – informally called textspeak.  A study titled ‘Texting Insincerely: The Role of the Period in Text Messaging,’ looked into the sincerity of exchanges, both digital and written, and how punctuation seemed to affect levels of sincerity.

Although the full stop signals the end of a sentence, many are increasingly leaving them out from final sentences – and omitting them entirely if the message is only one sentence long. In the study, psychologist Danielle Gunraj tested the perception of one-sentence text messages which had a full stop at the end of them and found that these messages were perceived as less sincere. Yet when shown the same messages in the form of hand-written notes, respondents stated no drop in perceived levels of sincerity. Technology has allowed us to communicate in the written word using some of the systems of instant, real-time speech, leading to a blending of the two forms and also the changing of them.

“Banter, mate.”

The fact that the messages which were sent via text were perceived as less sincere is an indication of how different types of communication whether that be written, digital or spoken have different conventions and rules – some of which we unconsciously employ in our day-to-day communications. We can often switch between utilising these quickly in given scenarios too. Think of the difference between the hand-written letter, a text message or speaking formally to a colleague. Or coming out of a business meeting with a client, to answering the phone to your uncle from East London, and then meeting your best mate on your lunch break. You probably wouldn’t notice the differences in such a short period of time in your speech but you went from extremely formal in your meeting, to dropping your ‘Gs’ when chatting to your uncle, to using a relaxed register full of in-words and jokes with your mate.

The name for this phenomenon is code-switching, a term in linguistics which essentially means utilising different languages, or systems, in different contexts. This is more evident for those who are bi-lingual who may switch languages, even mid-sentence, depending on the position they find themselves in, but it can also be more broad. Much like saying “bants” with your mates is (probably?) okay, saying it in a job interview (probably?) wouldn’t go down as well. The same could be said of the formal tone of an interview – it would probably get you some weird looks down the pub with your friends on a Saturday afternoon. Code-switching too then, can be equally applied to technological forms of communication as it can to more formal written speech or spoken language. Technological communication is gaining its own distinct set of meanings, rules and significations which people are able to quickly switch between.

Language is more important than most of us think about on a day-to-day basis. We are defined by it; our minds are shaped by it. Technology has disrupted language and communication in some interesting ways over the past few decades – it will be interesting to see how it informs communication in the next few.

Bonus Exercise 1

If you’ve just spent an hour getting yourself looking great to meet your partner for dinner and they’ve only just texted to say “So sorry! I can’t make dinner tonight but I’ll be home soon!” as you’re about to head out of the door, you can utilise these new forms of communication to your advantage. Rather than get rid of the full stop (as we’ve discovered common convention now dictates) just reply with “Fine.” You can always blame it on correct grammar.

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