Tuesday, July 25, 2006

"Everything should be made as simple as possible, but no simpler" Albert Einstein

This morning on Radio 4's Today Programme, there was a piece about an email message sent to a woman by a man she had met for the first time the previous evening. The email, long, flowery and, some would say (have said), creepy has since reached something of a curious zenith in Internet infamy, its recipient having passed it on to friends, who then forwarded it electronically just about everywhere. The text of his email can be found here and it is indeed quite cringe-worthy, but my interest in the Today piece was the commentary on how we choose to communicate with each other nowadays.

The ease of transmission and speed of delivery inherent in text and email brings with it all sorts of pitfalls. Having removed or, actually, camouflaged many of our mechanisms for reading one another (evolved over the millennia), we are often inappropriately familiar. We can pour out our hearts, we can vent and let off steam or we can stir up the shit and get it completely and utterly wrong. And more, we live within the illusion that a medium such as email is somehow ephemeral and less lasting than a face-to-face or even a written note. As the writer of the email featured in Today found out, the opposite is true.

We rarely think about language, though we clearly use it a lot. Were we to, we might make one very useful observation, and that is how closely what we say or write both follows and leads what we think. The longer we take to say what we mean in the least number of words, the better.

Another observation (for me) is the wonderful way we can construct many possible meanings from one piece of language (and, by way of corollary, we can construct one meaning from many different pieces of language).

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