Wednesday, November 14, 2007

na zdraví to social connectivity!

It's undeniable that when our social practices become tied up with restrictive communicative media, our vernacular language adapts accordingly. Indeed, the sort of shortenings and misspellings common to texting were long preceded by the chatroom slang popularized in the late 90s – to that end, a friend of mine still receives slang-ridden corporate emails from her now thirtysomething dotcom boss ('omg, capital improvement board meeting 2morrow!').

This technologically-spurred linguistic evolution can indicate a lot more than a mere degradation of accepted grammar though. These sorts of “always on” communicative technologies change not only the way we communicate, but the way we structure our social attitudes and interactions at really fundamental levels. As Rheingold sweepingly puts it, “aspects of social geography are changing before our eyes and ears.” (xxii)

A great example of such linguistically reflected social transformation can be found in “Prozvonit,” a word that's recently cropped up in common usage among speakers of Czech and Slovak. The word refers to the practice of “[calling] someone's mobile from your own to leave your number in their memory without them picking it up” (as defined alongside some other linguistic wonders in Adam Jacot de Boinod's Toujours Tingo: More Extraordinary Words To Change The Way We See The World).

That this practice warrants its own Slavic verb makes clear the extent to which general social interactions have been transformed by the availability of cellular technology in the region. To begin with, cell phones are pervasive enough to widen the semantic scope of commonly defined actions. But beyond this, phones aren't merely everpresent here – rather, they're assuming a sort of agency in the social situation, as the need to verbally exchange numbers has been supplanted by the phone's ability to store and recall a chronological record of its received calls. The gesture breaks a once formidable social interaction down to the simple exchange of bits of information ; no-longer will dates be scrawling their digits onto the forearms of their casanovas. Sure, we're a long way from being borglike. But to some degree, meeting someone has become less personal, has been transformed into an exchange of data.

Perhaps this kind of thing is less apparently revolutionary when compared to the micronesian political mobilizations Rafael explores in "Generation TXT"... but such linguistic adaptation still certainly evidences the extent to which such revolutionary changes in the protocols of social interaction are taking place.

No comments: