text and technology

It is a one-page ad in the current (January 9, 2006) issue of The New Yorker. Designed for the well-known French liqueur Grand Marinier, the ad boldly announces: "Its time to spk in rl wrds agn."

I turned to The New Yorker this morning before continuing to read Elizabeth Kotoko’s novel "The Historian," an elegantly written work weighing in at a hefty 642 pages.

The contrast between the two texts is obvious. The novel speaks to a grand literary tradition of over 300 years; the ad is a spoof on text messaging, a current phenomenon of popular culture and the miniature instruments, cell phones and palm-held computers, that require—or encourage—abbreviations.

The big question raised is what long-time effect text messaging and cell-phoning will have on one of our most cherished forms of communication: good conversation. We all daily witness the mindless cyberbabble that occupies the passerby with cell phone in hand and violates any sense of conversation as a shared environmental experience as well as an audible one. Outdoor seating in Parisian cafes in spring has been trumpeted as the classic setting in which such conversation takes place.

To write in abbreviations and to talk in fast-delivered spurts is to diminish discourse.

By the way, the Grand Marinier ad addressed this matter. In smaller print stretched across the neck of the Grand Marinier bottle are these words: "The conversation is waiting."

Take heed, whether you like liqueur or not.

Ray Betts