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The Relevance of Language in the Digital Age

The World Wide Web has transformed the way we communicate; yet it has been detrimental to the learning of languages and enhancement of language capabilities at the individual level. Where before, the spoken and written language required at least some attention to grammar and semantics, today it can be likened to a software code: enough if understood and gets the job done. In the digital age, there is greater emphasis on the pragmatic aspect of language as a driver of communication.

It is not difficult to imagine why. The world has become a smaller place and lives have become busier. Time is at a premium and ironically, the acceleration in work speed courtesy of computers has only increased pressure on humans to work at breakneck speed, trying to get as much done in as little time as possible. In this scenario, language has taken a backseat and the value of quantifiable data – numbers and statistics – has increased. Simultaneously and somewhat unfortunately, respect for the language, English or native, has diminished.

Social media imposes space limitations; text messages were never intended to be long to begin with; and emails too have gone the SMS way, with everyone wanting answers ASAP, seemingly having no time to say sorry and just enough to type SFLR (Sorry for Late Reply), and apparently not caring enough to appreciate another human with a heartfelt line or two, rather a generic YMMD (You Made My Day). You may not use these in your daily lingo but millions of internet users around the world do, and that can be pretty scary or amusing, depending on how you look at it.

Where before speed reading was about getting through the pages of books at a blindingly fast pace, today we ‘power skim’ online, picking up the essence of the story and giving little thought to the manner in which ideas have been expressed. The internet encourages us to read the headings, images, tables, graphs and bullet points in an article; whether or not we want to enjoy the writer’s prose is up to us. A long-form article, though appreciated, is expected to include captioned images, subheads, bulleted lists, statistics and tweetable quotes. And for readers who can spare less than a minute on an article, there’s always tl;dr (Too long; didn’t read).

 Language is still necessary for social interactions and critical for professional authors as well as the continuing existence of the publishing industry. What we’re witnessing is watered-down, filtered and sieved language. This is reflected in the general sentiment that learning ‘some’ English to land a job will do; in the process, we fail to become articulate at English and the approach often comes at the cost of our native language. Ultimately, we struggle to gain command over either language, missing out on its beauty and leading a colorless life on the internet.