Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Ethics and Mores in Social Media

I am writing (or attempting to write) for the weekly Hump Day Hmm on ethics and mores in social media. Rarely do I write a more boring or bland opening statement, but I am suffering from a dilemma of being interested in writing about the subject and not having the time to truly devote to the topic. Such as it is, here are my thoughts.

First, there are certainly far more tools to communicate with today than probably ever before, and yet human beings seem to be communicating less and less effectively all the time. The social media available have contributed greatly to the degradation of our language skills, both writing and speaking. When I hear someone say "LOL" or anything of that kind from chat-speak in normal conversation, I have to avoid slapping them or screaming. I have been actively using online forms of communication since the early Nineties, and I have refused to ever completely break from using complete sentences because I know that my ability to share my thoughts in a clear and cohesive manner would be destroyed. I see my fears realized vicariously every time I see teenagers texting in truncated letters and numbers that have some vague meaning to the people using the jargon but clearly are not English (or any other standard language, though I can't speak to how those things work in any other written languages). I am greatly disturbed by how much those things have started creeping into our general culture. It has become completely commonplace to talk in acronyms - today I listened to a speaker continually refer to the IOC's and the TMS without ever explaining what an IOC is (someone else explained what TMS stands for). I am sure my experience was similar to that described here so eloquently by Julie Pippert. Many people in the room obviously knew what was being discussed, but I know for a fact that other people in that room did not know what was being discussed. Two people asked me if I "got anything at all out of that" and we discussed the confusion of being new to such a meeting.

Back to the main idea, though: what are the ethics and mores in social media. My main concern is to maintain my own standards in language and proper respect of others as I use social media. I also do my best to make sure that my time spent utilizing any media is something of value to me and (hopefully) to others. One reason I avoided starting a blog for so long was the fear that it would consume my time and take me away from my wife and kids. I also did not want it to conflict with my working life. I feel I have managed to avoid becoming obsessed with blogging, but I know it can quickly become a struggle because other bloggers are so fascinating. Other people are fascinating. I can be very empathetic with people, and as I become involved in knowing more about a person, it becomes far too easy to care about them. I know that sentence sounds callous, but I am a person who can care far too much about other people if I don't keep myself in check. I have lived through periods where I was more concerned with other people's wants and desires than my own, and I suffered for it. So, again, I have to avoid worrying so much about what Joe Bobby Tucker in Middleofnowhere, USA, is suffering through at this moment because I have my own life to live.

We, as a society, need to harness the tools we have and utilize them in ways that improve education, improve communication, and improve relationships. As long as we continue to move further into hermit-like existences in our own communities and homes for the sake of keeping up with blogs/chats/twitter/texting/Mushes/whatever else, then our tools are leading to our downfall as individuals and as a society. If we do turn the tide and make these into true tools, perhaps we will find the way to solve some of the great problems facing the world today - poverty, hunger, pollution, education, debt, health care, the list goes on.


Julie Pippert said...

Ohhhhhh you just stepped on one of my buttons: decreased written communication skills.

Or should I say skillz?

Good writing (which is an entirely different matter from being literate, although many can't distinguish the two) is a hard enough skill to foster. It is always a challenge to get people to understand that simply writing down your idea and finding it clear for you doesn't make it *good.*

Trust me, I got paid good money to deal with that very challenge.

The irony is that the really good writers often doubted themselves, because they always saw room for improvement.

It was the "bad" writers who tended to usually resist edits and argue that their stuff was fine as is.

So now we have a generation of people who abbr txt 2 talk.


I worry about vocabulary, grammar, sentence structure, ability to communicate and so forth.

My mother---a language arts teacher--says she is growing more and more concerned about students and this very issue.

The students make an argument---which even some linguists find valid---that it is true communication is the points is communicated.

I've watched through my adulthood language and formal communication erode.

So anywy the point is yes, I see what you are saying and I agree.

Again it comes back to the point of generations. My generation (our generation?) uses these tools in the "traditional" style of communication---still use full words and sentence structure. What do the younger people do?

What you describe.

Anonymous said...

I agree with you--it's not the tool, it's how we use it and how we encourage its use. I also think that there is a time and a place for txt talk, and it is a skill our kids are going to be expected to know how to use proficiently. I am expected to use it in my work setting all the time already. Understanding how and when we use it appropriately is something we need to teach and model.

Anonymous said...

Great points! Email was the first degradation of communication and then instant messaging and texting (that was really hard not to abbreviate). But then again, if you don't speak the language, you'll lose touch with the next generation. Yes, they need to be taught proper writing, but you still need to stoop down to their level to maintain communications. This from a total geek that writes code for a living and not English...

Robert said...

Julie, I remember ten years ago already fighting the battle of people who failed to capitalize their "I" in chats over instant messenger, then the punctuation went. Then words. Todd and I used to crack jokes during online games by saying whole sentences like this 'wtgpwsgttt' for "Way to go, partner. We sure got them that time." whenever our opponents continually talked in a those acronyms. I personally work hard at trying to type in grammatically correct sentences with words spelled, and I am notorious for trying to refine my words. I am right there with you on trying to perfect the language.

Realitytesting, using those tools are great - so long as they still learn language. It can work as the new shorthand as a tool. I can tell you that kids today do not.

I used to write Pascal so elegant that it read like essays, mommybytes. :) I can communicate with people of many generations, with different colloquialisms. But I would sure love for my children to have similar skills because they can communicate in writing and speech. Fortunately, my daughter already has excellent verbal skills, and I plan to continue working with her to make sure she progresses.

Thanks for the comments.

le35 said...

I feel like there are several ways to learn how to write. In the 50's, it was almost necessary for people to learn how to write short hand. It's a skill we have almost lost in today's society thanks to word processing programs. However, I feel like teenagers ought to learn how to write full long essays with correct grammar, punctuation, and sentence structure. I only graduated from High school eight years ago, but in my college level English class, only two other girls and I (out of 22) got over 90% on a grammar and sentence structure test. Our junior high students should be able to put full sentences together, and our high school students need it badly, but if a student graduates from college, he or she should have to be able to write an essay coherently.

Robert said...

Fortunately in Georgia, a person cannot graduate with a four year degree without passing an essay test. I remember discussing with people how hard that test was. I passed it while I was still in high school (students have to pass it before they complete a certain number of hours to achieve class rank, and I had a year of college before I left high school). I worry for people who couldn't pass that test, regardless of whether they should have college degrees.

The need for literacy and communication skills has been near and dear to me for some time. I appreciate the feedback on the subject from everyone.

Gwen said...

I'm an English teacher, so you'd think that language would be important to me, but my students weren't poor writers because of technology. They were poor writers, in part, because they didn't read. I have no problem with text abbreviations; language evolves, and we need to work out a way to deal with the ever-more specialized ways in which we use different kinds of language for different purposes. This, of course, from a person who tries never to IM and who really, honestly, does not know what Twitter is. (lol--can I use that here?)

Robert said...

I can definitely agree that the lack of writing ability has more to do with not having read enough. I can agree that letting language evolve and develop has benefits, but my concern is that kids seem to be devolving. Six months ago, my daughter (who is three and a half now) said "That's incredible!" when she saw an older girl (a teenager) making an ornament by letting paint roll around inside a clear plastic ball. The teenage girl's response said, "Wow, she uses words I don't even use." And that spoke volumes about her generation to me. That's incredible.

Yolanda said...

"I am a person who can care far too much about other people if I don't keep myself in check. I have lived through periods where I was more concerned with other people's wants and desires than my own, and I suffered for it."

I can so, so, so identify with this one. I loev knowing tat I have that connection with someone, though. And amazing that I would find it out in a post about something that seems so inhuman on its surface "social networking."

Robert said...

Social networking and social media certainly do seem to be taking the human aspect out of communication.

I definitely went through a period of letting people use me, very often as a dumping ground for negative emotions. I also let myself get too caught up in the drama of satisfying their needs. I am thankful I have moved on from that time. I am also thankful to have learned to watch out so I don't let someone do that to me again.