“Never judge a book by its movie.” JW Eagan
“There are three kinds of men,” Will Rogers once said, “The one that learns by reading. The few who learn by observation. The rest of them have to pee on the electric fence for themselves.”
As many educators will tell you, younger people are peeing on a lot of electric fences these days. Even aspiring writers would rather electrify themselves than sit down with a book.
“If it’s not about sports, I have a hard time concentrating,” George Costanza once said on Seinfeld. His girlfriend wanted him to read Truman Capote’s “Breakfast at Tiffany’s.” He decided to rent the movie instead.
Concentration and peeing on electric fences seem to have a lot in common. It’s not that we’re becoming a more experiential society. We simply can’t be bothered with books.
“It’s easier,” the woman replied. “You don’t have to use as many words.”
A big part of this has to do with how we communicate. A woman on a dating site once told me, “I’m not ready to talk yet. Could we keep texting?”
During a seminar once, the moderator noticed a couple texting during the break. It turns out they were texting each other. “Why would you do that instead of talking?” the moderator asked the woman. “It’s easier,” the woman replied. “You don’t have to use as many words.”
We’ve become strange economists. Using fewer words suggests we’re freeing ourselves up for more important things — like more texting. The average Millennial sends out about 128 messages per day (3,853 a month). Some of these texts are obviously very brief like, “yup” and “wassup?”
Even this has been lessened by the use of emojis. These clever little things remind me of fridge magnets (some probably are fridge magnets), but they’re incredibly useful in our “text-to-save-time” age.
In the world of texting and emojis, you don’t just save time, you save emotion. As Jack Hurst, a 16-year-old sophomore admitted, “I use emojis because I’m incapable of showing emotions any other way.”
Didn’t our forefathers (and foremothers) way back in Neolithic times effectively use grunts the same way we use emojis?
A lot of people feel the same way, shortening their thoughts and using visuals to avoid feelings altogether. To the growing Millennial base, communication — even relationships — have been emotional and wordy for too long. Why can’t people just say, “Love ya,” and order a pizza? What’s with all this “How do I love thee, let me count the ways…”? Pizzas don’t get eaten that way.
Since pizzas need to be eaten and words don’t, we should look at the original intention of speech. Didn’t our forefathers (and foremothers) way back in Neolithic times effectively use grunts the same way we use emojis? And didn’t that free them up for more practical pursuits like gnawing on stuff?
Perhaps we’re getting back to basics, embracing the time-honored practice of simplification. Why burden ourselves with emotion when brevity — or the equivalent of grunts like “yup” — gets the point across?
Based on the torrent of brief, almost guttural responses to most social messages these days, the idea must be catching on.People in all age groups are applying simplified, emotionless dialogue to every aspect of their lives.
Love, for instance, is no stranger to stripped-down expressions, particularly when you’re not as nuts about each other as you used to be.
You don’t want to say more than necessary in case, as someone explained, “you hurt the person’s feelings.” It seems texting doesn’t hurt anyone’s feelings.
In a Vox Study, 59 percent of 21–50 year-olds said they’d rather break up by text in casual dating circumstances. The number dropped to 29 percent when it was an exclusive relationship. “Text to dump” is still a popular option and keeps us out of swinging — and shouting — distance.
Short sentences are key in either scenario. You don’t want to say more than necessary in case, as someone explained, “you hurt that person’s feelings.” Texting doesn’t hurt anyone’s feelings—or affect their intellect.
That may be why people — even aspiring writers — have stopped reading. Books give us too many words. Rather than broadening our language, they introduce stuff like insight and depth. There’s no emoji for insight. There is one, however, that looks like a pile of shit.
Reading less — if at all — clears our heads. We can now express ourselves as cleanly as our grunting ancestors. Who even asked characters like Shakespeare and Dickens to come up with all these silly books? It’s their fault we got all fancy with words, filling libraries and school curriculums, like we didn’t have better things to do — like texting “yup” and “wassup?”
They preferrably want to see something literate, which really sucks if you’re not.
Remember back in school when you had to write a book report on “As You Like It?” Why would anyone go around saying “…thou didst know how many fathoms deep I am in love,” when a smiling emoji or “Dig you” would suffice? Or Katherine, in “Taming of the Shrew” saying, “If I be waspish, best beware of my sting,” when she could have said “Me bitch”?
Of course, without books, aspiring writers might find themselves limited, particularly if they actually have to write something. It seems publishers don’t share our enthusiasm for brevity. They prefer to see something literate, which really sucks if you’re not, and even worse if you never intend to be.
On Facebook recently, a man (Danny) posted his query letter, hoping for feedback before he sent off his manuscript to some publishers. Since I — and other readers — support anyone sending query letters (since most end up as coasters in the publisher’s office), I tried to be constructive with Danny.
He wrote back: “Those are colloquialisms? Wow, I had no idea.”
In a short note (short being the operative word, I told him I found his query full of colloquialisms. Unfortunately, there isn’t an emoji for “colloquialisms,” so I confused Danny to no end. He asked what I meant.
“I can’t go through all of this, Danny,” I wrote back. “Colloquialisms are things like “On the eve of her summer holiday,” “awful truth,” “everything her life throws at her,” and “laugh-out-loud funny.”
He wrote back: “Those are colloquialisms?”
I wish now I hadn’t dampened his spirit. How was he to know? Colloquialisms don’t seem to exist in the texting community, although linguists and grammarians think all texts are colloquialisms simply by overuse.
I haven’t used “yup” or “wassup?” — not because I avoid colloquialisms, but because I avoid “yup” and “wassup?” I’ve also never sent a shit emoji, since I didn’t know they existed (until Danny sent me one).
I need to brush up on emojis. I need to use “wassup?”without sounding too needy.
I’m old school, unfortunately. I read too much, write too much, and avoid colloquialisms. To be honest, I can barely text. My fingers don’t have the dexterity — not like what I see people doing on subways and streetcars. Their fingers fly like they’re having their own steeplechase.
No, I’m already unsalvageable, a poor wretch, thinking words have some sort of significance. I should put my copy of “Troilus and Cressida” in the bin, and start looking for electric fences. I need to do more peeing. I need to brush up on emojis. I need to use “wassup?” without sounding needy.
Most of all, I want to remember what it’s like to grunt. I did this when I was young. I’m sure I can pick it up again. I’m also thinking of all the things I can do with the time I save.
Like gnawing on something. I’d like to get back to that.
Robert Cormack is a novelist, humorist and blogger. His first novel “You Can Lead a Horse to Water (But You Can’t Make It Scuba Dive)” is available online and at most major bookstores (now in paperback). Check out Yucca Publishing or Skyhorse Pressfor more details.