There is a complex homogeneous relationship between language and culture. This has been the basis of civilization and the advancement of human endeavour. The rise of any civilization was also marked by the richness of its language. The Vedas from India, the writings of Confucius, the famed library of Alexandria in ancient Egypt or the Ephesus library of the Greeks, all have played a critical role in spreading knowledge. Language helped you express, chronicle and spread the knowledge. The entire language and culture is now changing, it’s becoming shorter and the norms of expression are changing. What kind of impact will it have on emerging culture?
Interestingly shortening of language cannot be ascribed to mobile phone devices alone. Mathematics has its own universal sign language of add, subtract, divide and multiply. Morse and stenography are depended on a series of shortened symbols that makes the language. There are symbols like !, ? and & $ that are universal across most of the languages. What the youth has done is that they have juggled with the languages to create a new code. This code uses lesser words, numbers instead of words, expressions that are unique and it cuts across the globe.
What the shortening of message and ability to be delivered anywhere does, is that allows youngsters to have continuous connections in multiple places. If they are with a group of friends physically in the day, they are with the same friends even when they are not with them physically. It is surprising how youngsters continue the conversation with the same bunch of friends with whom they spent the whole day. Again the conversation is independent of device as it may be a sms or IM or FB chat!
And this is creating a new youth order, and new rules of engagement
• Rise of a unique social space: this space is where ganging, and interpersonal equations acquire completely new meanings. This space is quite closed unto itself and gives the youth both identity and connectivity. Interestingly the entire communication in this space happens from the privacy of the youth’s rooms, away from parents prying eyes. To that extent this space is youth’s own and it has it’s own norms, rules and rituals
• There is a new definition of cool: making an impression on the opposite gender has been one of the critical rituals of youth. For generations, youth has dressed and groomed to impress. In this new age of social groups, the definition of cool also includes how well you text! For once, those who write ‘well’ may be desired!
• There is a decline in social and emotional ties: this is the paradox of the new form of communication. Rise of ‘impersonal’ texted communication is creating a void in the social and emotional space. While people do write and communicate about a lot of things they can’t speak, it remains largely one way communication, as the reaction of the receiver can never be gauged spontaneously. This like communicating without communicating
• There is a wider social impact though. The shortening of message and its ability to be transmitted to a personal device is having a deeper social impact. It is becoming the new driver of literacy in our country where the youth is now actively wants to be a part of this new wave. And while for urban youth it may be about identity and connectivity, for the larger mass of young India, it is about passing from a life with limited opportunity to a world full of opportunities.
Surprisingly even the shortened world of language has its own rules. Who could have imagined that a short message could have brought the downfall of a powerful sports administrator and an influential minister?
This is where the impact of this new language on the culture is most visible. Personal yet private, individual yet connected, in a gang, yet open to the world!
Shorten the language, but do it with care.
This was published in Financial Express Brand Wagon on 5th May 2010