dear crabby texting

Dear Crabby,

I need help in understanding the youth of today.

Everywhere I look, I see sentences and paragraphs with almost no capitalization and, even worse, no punctuation. Sadly, it occurs even in this fine publication, the Yakima Herald-Republic.

It makes reading writings very unclear. Do you have any words of advice for me?

Sincerely,

A Boomer

Dear Boomer,

As an aging writer who prizes precision and clarity and uses more semicolons in a week than most people use their entire lives, I sympathize; as a culture-watcher who tends to think “kids these days” complaints are almost always without merit, I gotta say it’s not really that big of a deal.

That’s not to say it isn’t irksome when some whippersnapper texts or online-comments “wat u up 2 i am bored” or whatever. (They’re ALWAYS bored, these kids.) To you or me, that’s difficult to parse. We get it, but it takes an extra second.

But to their peers, that’s just the language. They don’t know cursive, but they’re fluent in “online.” They grew up typing on phones. They grew up abbreviating. They grew up posting and sending memes and gifs to the point that those now constitute an entire nonverbal language. (Why, after all, would you type the entire sentence, “I find that ridiculous,” when you could just post that gif of that guy blinking and raising his eyebrows?)

The kids — anyone younger than 30 for the purposes of this discussion — are changing foundational and structural elements of communication. That’s wild and incredibly interesting from a linguistic standpoint. Still, practically speaking, it’s not THAT much different than the way human communication has always evolved.

I mean, pick up a book from the 16th century and try to read that. Early Modern English may as well not be English at all, for as long as it takes me to translate it. Language has always changed. It has just changed faster over the past 20 years because of the parallel advancements in technology.

Rest assured, though: The kids get it. Their generation’s particular modes of communication and our inability to understand them, then, are just a generation gap like any previous generation gap.

It’s fine. Nobody has ever understood “the youth of today.” That’s why we invented the phrase “the youth of today.” But I think they’re doing all right, these wacky kids with their lack of capitalization and punctuation.

Sure, it’s frightening how fast all of this has happened. And not just because we can’t understand what younger people are saying. It’s frightening because our inability to understand means we are old. We’re being left behind. We won’t live forever. We’re being replaced. So, uh, it’s not unpunctuated sentences that scare you, Boomer. It’s what they represent: death.

Hope that helps.

Sincerely,

Crabby

Reach Pat Muir at pmuir@yakimaherald.com.