A leading professor of linguistics has dismissed fears that the boon in communication technology, with the advent of social networking like email, cell phones, instant messaging and text messaging will have a negative impact on the written language, mainly among teenagers.
Completely defying such fears, Naomi Baron, a professor of linguistics at American University, says that this boom in communicational technology may actually have a deep impact on relationships much more than it could have on writing.
"Technologies such as email, instant messaging and text messaging aren't sounding the death knell for written language as we know it. In fact, studies in the United States, the United Kingdom and Sweden all report that teenagers have a rather clear understanding that 'school writing' is different from the messages they send to friends," Baron said.
In her book, 'Always On: Language in an Online and Mobile World (Oxford University Press, 2008)', Baron has put in a decade of research, where she looks at how technology has influenced our reading, writing, speaking and listening behaviours.
She has also suggested that we should not care much about the effect of technology on our writing and focus instead the focus should be directed more towards how it might be changing our interpersonal relationships.
"People have always found ways to avoid unwanted conversation: crossing the street when a person you don't want to talk with is approaching or hanging up the phone if your boyfriend's mother-rather than your boyfriend-answers. However, new online and mobile technologies increase the range of options at our disposal for choosing when we want to interact with whom. We check caller ID on our cell phones before taking the call. We block people on IM or Facebook. And we forward email or text messages to people for whom they were never intended," said Baron.
Ever since she has completed her book, Baron has travelled around the world and talked to college students about how they use mobile and online technologies. A number of students confessed that they felt a sense of empowerment by the way in which these technologies allow them to ignore calls or messages from certain family members and friends.
"Not one of them expressed any regrets or suspicion that such manipulation might be just plain rude," said Baron.
Such attitude was justified by students by saying that the individuals trying to contact them did not know their calls or messages were being ignored and thus so technically no harm was done.
"I suspect that if you ask the parents or friends whose attempts at communication were blocked, you would hear a different story," said Baron.
She also said that while ignoring calls, emails and messages on our cell phones and laptops may potentially affect our relationships in a negative way, such attitude isn't always a bad thing after all.
"While talking with students in Sweden and Italy, where mobile phones have been ubiquitous far longer than in the United States, I was pleasantly surprised to see the number of people who turned their phones off when they were studying, ignored incoming calls or text messages-even from good friends-while watching a movie on TV, or intentionally 'forgot' their phones from time to time just to have some peace," she said.
"My hope is that Americans are only going through a phase of feeling they must be 'always on' and that over time, we will regain a more balanced sense of communicative equilibrium," she added.