Sunday, January 11, 2015

And he whispered, "I love you period."

I miss the period from my writing. Mostly in text messages. Specifically, I miss the functionality of the neutral sign that marks the end of the sentence. In my own text message writing, many periods that I write get reconsidered and transformed into exclamation marks. Why am I writing texts as if I'm always excited?

My theory is that it started with the dawn of texting. The best way to put an entire alphabet onto a phone was to use the three letters assigned to each key. Many early cell phones dealt with this by having the user push that key a certain number of times. For example, pressing "2" twice to get a B, pressing "7" four times for an S, and so on.

In this woeful era, effort was at a premium. Capital letters? That would be *at least* one extra press per letter. Punctuation? Extra presses all over the place -- and doubly bad, they use up one of the valuable characters.

I witnessed many people write sentences like this: dave drives on fri

It gets the point across, surely. My brain objects, mostly for those extreme edge cases that would never happen, but would require sentence archaeology: may may marry in may and buy berry for barry

But now we're in an era where the phones help as best they can. Automatically capitalizing first letters, putting a period after two spaces. And text messages are becoming passe as digital messages (not hampered by SMS standards) take over and offer unlimited characters.

Still, I think some people got used to the idea that sentences or utterances without punctuation are "neutral." Adding a period feels very final. The difference between "no" and "No." seems quite profound. The properly punctuated and capital-ed version is practically an illuminated manuscript fragment in terms of severity and artifice!

So I find that knowledge of this influences my writing. Typing out something -- "I really can't wait to see you Friday." -- feels very flat. Am I that glad to see them? Look at that period there, squatting at the end of the sentence. It's not very excited at all. 

Worse still, it starts to make everything need an exclamation, on pain of being thought insincere or insouciant. Consider:

You looked beautiful in your fancy clothes.
You looked beautiful in your fancy clothes!

One of those sentences feels like a better compliment. And once one has received enough of the EXCITED compliments, the regular ones feel less impressive, or less sincere.

And then it starts to poison simple answers.

She texts: Hey, I won't be able to make it to the play on Saturday. Can we try again some other time?
I think: Aww, bumblebees! I was really looking forward to seeing her. Well, I don't want her to think there are any hard feelings. I'm sure it was a difficult decision that led her to cancel. I'll be informal and let her know that I'm not too wounded.
I type: Sure. 
I think: Hmm, that looks sort of gloomy. Maybe I should use more words, to give a better context that I'm COMPLETELY fine with her cancelling. No, I get in trouble if I use too many words. I'll do this...
I type and send: Sure!
I think: Well, that sort of looks like I'm excited that she cancelled, but since nobody would be excited in such a situation, perhaps she'll get my intent and read it is "Hey, things happen. See you soon."
She texts: Great.
I think: Oh shit. Everything is ruined forever. Why doesn't she love me?

The above interaction is more true than I am comfortable admitting. 

And I'm not sure that switching to voice would be any better. I now regularly get annoyed when people leave long-winded voicemails, especially for information that could be better communicated in text or email. ESPECIALLY when people have awful habits of stumbling through the message and then RUSHING through their phone number (because they have that part memorized), forcing another listen to the message. ARGH WHY?

A friend and I were talking about this whole punctuation thing a while back. She agreed that sentences ended with periods felt like they were communicating some extra level of meaning that wasn't necessarily intended. We exchanged texts afterwards for a few weeks putting exclamation marks on everything, which made them hilarious, but also made everything feel like we were constantly astonished.

Her: Did you get the email I sent from Friday!?
Me: I did! I can do all of the rehearsals! Except the seventeenth!
Her: Fantastic! I think there's good music this time!
Me: Good! Last time wasn't very inspiring!
Her: That was because of Michael! His wife died!
Me: That's terrible! I feel bad for the children!

1 comment:

  1. "The above interaction is more true than I am comfortable admitting."

    Everything about this post was spot on.