The Importance of Being Stupid
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Josh Lee
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Going Home
OMG. What the flipping heck? I think to myself as I stare at the paper on the desk before me. I’m proof reading an essay for a friend. He’s asked me if I could review and return it to him before it’s due.
       The piece of processed tree bark appears to be lifeless, soaked in blood. The murder weapon is the pen in my hand – its shining tip is smeared with red ink. I’m only two paragraphs, two very short paragraphs, into the essay and already I’m frustrated beyond belief. I put the pen and essay to the side, careful not to get any more red ink on my hand. Wiping my hands off on my jeans, I reach for my cell phone. Pulling up my contact list, I find his name next to the small avatar and place the call.
       After a few seconds, he answers. His voice is cheerful, and I’m greeted with the usual “Eh brah! Whassap!” followed by, “So you wen finish my papah?”
       “Yeah, brah. I went finish your paper.” I reply – mocking him in my forced pidgin.
       Now, before I go on, the author of the now scratched up essay is a dear, dear friend of mine. I love him like a brother and have been friends with him for years. I’ve always loved everything about him, everything except his writing – and his speech, but that’s another story.
       But back to our conversation.
       “Are you seriously thinking of turning this in?” I ask, “You know Sarah Palin is just going to give you an F.” I say.
       The Sarah Palin I speak of isn’t the actual Sarah Palin – she’s our English teacher. It’s because her appearance – and intelligence, or lack thereof – that I christened her Sarah Palin. Think Tina Fey on Saturday Night Live.
       “Yeah, brah. I gotta turn in some-ting or else she goin’ fail me.” He replies.
       “Bro. Even if you do turn this in she’s going to fail you.” I reply.
       “Das one chance I gotta take.” He replies.
       I roll my eyes. We’re on the phone. He can’t see me.
       “Fine.” I reply, “I’ll give it back to you in class tomorrow.”
       “Shoots den brah.” He replies.

       I pick up the essay and look at it, looking first at all of my red scratches then the text buried beneath them. I sigh. What’s more unfortunate than his writing skill is that writing like the piece I hold in my hands isn’t uncommon. Given, not every teenager writes that way, but of the papers I’ve read, an easy eighty percent are filled to the brim with spelling and grammatical errors, poor word choice.
       I’ve read papers in which the author will use colloquial slang and abbreviate words the same way they would in a Facebook status update. I read “lol” and “omg” in formal papers. Obviously these aren’t the most informed writers in the world, but one would think it would be common sense to convey the feelings of mirth and shock in a more intelligent manner.
       What if the reader of the piece isn’t familiar with the abbreviated slang? What if said reader isn’t just a teacher (who might not have even read it at all)? What if the paper is an essay attached to a college application? What if it’s actually important?
       To truly understand when all of this ridiculous and nonsensical language originated, we have to look back about five to ten years, the time during which the now ubiquitous short message service rose in popularity above email and calling as a means of communication.
       Short message service. No one even calls it that anymore. People just say “text”. And believe me, I scoured every dictionary I could find, both printed and digital. “Text” is not a verb.
       Somewhere in the last five to ten years, “short message service” was shortened to “ SMS text messaging” which was then shortened to just “text messaging” which was further shortened to “texting”. In fact, in commercial advertising, some companies, albeit only in advertisements and commercial marketing, are even shortening “texting” to “txting”. Text messaging first became popular in the days of the phones old enough to be on display in the Smithsonian. We all remember those ancient candy bar phones. They had those twelve tiny buttons on the front below a monochrome, low-resolution screen. We composed messages using twelve little buttons, each button standing in for three or four letters.
       But then, a few years later, with the rise BlackBerrys, iPhones, and the ever multiplying Androids of the world, full keyboards became more and more prevalent on cell phones. They became so popular on smartphones that, like features that debut on high-end cars, they began to trickle down into even the most basic cellular units. The thing we commonly refer to as the QWERTY keyboard is now on almost every phone. The game has changed. Phones without QWERTY boards are now the minority. Everyone composes messages on mobile devices using a full, twenty-six-letter keyboard. No one needs to labor over a miniscule twelve-button array, punching at the same button over and over again just to get one letter!
       We’ve come so far, in fact, that now some phones will listen to you and, through a series of complex algorithms, digitize voice into text! Want to Google something? Speak your query, my friend! Want to cheat in Spanish class and do a quick translation? Hablar con tu consulta, mi amigo!
       We’ve got all this amazing technology – full keyboards on mobile phones, word suggestion, spell checking, voice to text rendering right there on our phones! So why the flying fish are we still composing text messages and emails like we’re using those ancient dinosaur phones?
       I’ll admit that when I’m having a casual conversation with my friend I don’t pay close attention to my spelling, grammar, and all that formal stuff. That's the time for writing the way I speak , but when I’m composing a text message or an email to someone who is outside of my informal circle, I take those little red underscores very seriously. I put apostrophes where they belong. If there is something wrong with what I type, my phone will correct me. And there’s another unfortunate turn of the tables. My phone is smarter than I am. Damn.
       It pains me to think about the future of language. Fifty years from now, the longest novels will be less than a page long, chapters reduced to paragraphs. Newspapers, if they still exist, will be printed on index cards. Microsoft’s Word will be used for exactly what its name suggests. Word. Singular word.
So I like to exaggerate to make a point and in the current day and age it is an exaggeration. But that’s now. What scares the living daylights out of me is the fact that I can see this Ray Bradbury, Fahrenheit 451-esque world in the near future – my future. Needless to say, my career will burn to ash like the pages of the books in Bradbury’s world if the machinations of my mind manifest themselves in reality.
       WTFH is happening to our society? We’re supposed to be constantly evolving and growing smarter in our approaches and stronger in our abilities. We’re supposed to be progressing not regressing. We should be making Shakespeare seem simple, Jane Austen cute. Unfortunately the masters of yesteryear are still making us of this society a million times more advanced, look like twits. No, my apologies, twits are the people who twitter (or tweet, whatever it’s called) on Twitter. Two hundred years from now, our children and great grand children will be communicating just as the cavemen did. Guttural grunts and simple line drawings will replace speech and the written word.
       Or perhaps I should just get with the times and stop trying so hard. Perhaps shortening our words down to single letters is humanity’s way of becoming more efficient. Perhaps it’s smart to lessen the amount we have to read and write. Perhaps it’s smart to be stupid.
On my own writing:
My writing isn’t perfect. I know that. I have a lot to learn and if this piece does come off as a tad pretentious, I apologize. I owe a lot to the dedicated editors who run through my papers each week. They deserve most of the credit. As I ramble on they trail behind me and clean it up as I go. Thank you also to all the readers who have welcomed me to the Spectator.