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I can remember my first day here at Eastern Michigan University. I moved in all of my belongings, including the new computer my parents bought me to start off the new school year. After setting everything up in my room I hooked up the computer and signed on to my AOL Instant Messenger for the first time. I wanted a screen name that would some how reflect my personality and ended up with butterfly3742. The butterfly referring to my free spirit emerging from the cocoon of my parent’s home, and the 3742 was the last four digits of my brand new very own telephone number. As the school year slowly progressed I added tons of new buddies to my “cool people” list, also friends from high school and home that went away to other universities started signing on so it became the easiest and most economical way to stay in touch. Instead, of being on the phone till all hours of the night, I was typing away at my computer with whoever was online at the time. My parents were ecstatic because I managed to keep my long distance phone bill at the bare minimum. They rewarded my money saving tactics through other means. Basically, the instant messenger became a standard, resourceful, and economical way of keeping in touch through writing with friends from my past and friends in my present.
Instant messenger is an easy tool used for written communication that has taken the world by storm. No longer is it cool as a student to use your phone, or other written materials as a form of interaction among friends. Authors are also beginning to see reading from the screen as becoming the norm of our society. As reading texts on screen is becoming a more accepted practice, using the IM is becoming the standard form of written communication for many adolescents across the globe. Writer James Sosnoski also accepts the custom of reading on screen becoming a norm. “Though I readily acknowledge that many persons do not like to read from their screens at this time, I assume that over a period of time, the practice will become so habitual that it will seem “natural”- just as it now seems customary to use a computer rather than a typewriter.
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A whole new form of language was also created along with the instant messenger. To be considered “hip, or cool,” this plain way of speaking must be learned and mastered. Key phrases change for the writer and in the process their writing style progresses to become skilled at new forms of speaking through their writing. According to cyber culture writer Sven Birkerts, “The complexity and distinctiveness of spoken and written expression, which are deeply bound to traditions of print literacy, will gradually be replaced by a more telegraphic sort of “plainspeak.”” (Birkerts 70) Common phrases like loud out loud, be right back, or talk to you later changed into abbreviated forms of themselves, turning into lol, brb, and ttyl. A whole new form of slang is learned that can have multiple meanings. This is all a learned process for the writer, and reader. Spelling is never any issue between friends. Little smiley faces grace the screen whenever you’re feeling good about something, which makes talking to someone across the United States as easy as pie. I love the smiley faces because whenever I want to say something to a friend that might be considered rude I can add the face and they will not take offense, or if I’m going through a certain emotion I can use one of the faces. According to Steven Johnson, “The influx of new terms and intonations keeps the word-world lively.” (Johnson 495) Johnson is absolutely right changing terms, adding art and sound make IM livelier for its active audience. The little beeping sound that’s music to my ears comes through on the instant messenger and is an instant alert system that a conversation is about to take place with someone I most likely want to talk to. There are many advantages to the IM system as a whole.
One of the advantages I thought the instant messenger made available to me was the opportunity to stay in touch with friends from home. It’s very hard going into a new situation with so many new people. The instant messenger made it possible to stay in touch with people I already felt comfortable and shared a bond with, which did not mind the mistakes in my writing. When someone is in a situation where an abundance of changes are taking place it’s nice to know your friends will always be there even if you cannot see them in person. Also, whenever I’m having a hard time with my school work I can turn to my instant messenger to get feedback that can put me on the right track. I remember a specific night I was having the hardiest time finishing a paper, I started taking to a friend that went to Western MI, and he coached me through the rest of my paper. I ended up receiving an A on that paper. Another advantage, I found with the instant messenger was if I needed something from someone that was just down the hall my lazy butt could just sit at the computer see if they were there, and if they were send them a message. This also assured me they would get the message if it was on their computer. Most times if they did not have the IM we would write the message on their board outside their door, if they had one, if they did we risked some jerk coming down the hall and erasing the message before one of my floor mates could read it. As many advantages there are to the IM there is always a downside to every new form of technology.
The first downside someone would most likely point out is actually one of my positives. Most people feel creations like the IM has turned our adolescents into a very “lazy” society. Sitting at their computer all day chatting with their friends rots their minds. The conversations they have are doing nothing to increase their intelligence and are just making it easier for them to get into trouble in other ways. As a society are our youngsters becoming lazy through technology? I say no we are not becoming lazier. What is the difference of sitting while on the telephone speaking, or writing a letter sitting at one’s desk? We are not being active while using these other forms of communication. Sitting at the computer typing is no different than sitting at one’s desk writing a letter, both activities use the same muscles inside the body. However, while sitting at the computer one is actually engaging in an ongoing written conversation that usually serves a purpose at the moment. Another problem most commonly found is by parents. They can no longer overhear their children’s conversations to keep an ear out for suspicious talk. Also, because the language of IM is usually plain or slang it is hard to keep up with new phrases that may be a warning sign for parents. These are just problems that over time will work themselves out as cyber technology progresses into the future.
I believe our habits as writers have greatly changed and enhanced with the invention of the IM. More of us are communicating with one another through some form of advanced technology. The styles with which writers are implementing are changing and improving through the means of simple conversation. Writers now have a ready source for help with any kind of writing they might be pursuing. Most professors who have not gone through this stage of technology with their students probably think about the IM as a detrimental practice that will in the long run damage their writing. They have the most trouble adapting to change. However, they were probably the key supporters of typewriters over computers. People need to understand that change usually brings many positive effects to those that readily accept and learn to use it on a regular basis from its beginning. Most of us as writers feel restricted to practices that have been instilled in us from a very young age. We go through the motions of writing without really liking, or even putting much thought into the words going on the page. The IM allowed us to bring forth new idioms from old words that were becoming stale and dull. Writer Mitchell Stephens points out this problem with dull mechanical writing in his essay, “Complex Seeing: A New Form.” According to Stephens, “When we speak or write, we are restricted, for the most part, to words that are already understood by those with whom we’re trying to communicate. We try to form, in essence, new thoughts out of old words.” (Stephens 425-26)
Cyber culture has seen many changes over the years. The instant messenger is just one of those changes that have turned the teenager from a talker to a writer. Looking at the IM system as a whole there are rewards that overshadow the darker sides of a system that is still a common tool for communication among many. Thinkers need to realize that with every new invention in written communication there is a certain period that the system needs to go through for growth and the IM is in the middle of this phase. Yet, communication has taken a turn that will bring the whole world together through a written conversation among buddies.
Birkerts, Sven. “Into the Electronic Millennium.” Writing Material: Readings from Plato to the Digital Age. Ed. Evelyn B. Tribble, Anne Trubek. New York: Addison Wesley Longman, Inc., 2003. 62-74.
Johnson, Steven. “Links.” Writing Material: Readings from Plato to the Digital Age. Ed. Evelyn B. Tribble, Anne Trubek. New York: Addison Wesley
Longman, Inc., 2003. 195-213.
Sosnoski, James. “Hyper-readers and their Reading Engines.” Writing Material: Readings from Plato to the Digital Age. Ed. Evelyn B. Tribble, Anne Trubek. New York: Addison Wesley Longman, Inc., 2003. 400-17.
Stephens, Mitchell. “Complex Seeing: A New Form.” Writing Material: Readings from Plato to the Digital Age. Ed. Evelyn B. Tribble, Anne Trubek.
New York: Addison Wesley Longman, Inc., 2003. 418-42.