Sunday, September 25, 2005

Something Smells Fishy On the Internet

Two of my favourite writers recently lamented -- as older-generation internet users tend to do -- on the decrepit state of literacy on the world wide web.

If you've never read any of Socar's journal, mouse-click over there right now, before you read anything else. If her post titled "The Other Side of the Internet" doesn't win you over (although I wouldn't recommend reading it at work), I'll start lamenting about my own readership. The thought did occur to me to ask her to write my vows, but that would not only be in alarmingly poor taste (gauche, even), but just a bad idea all 'round. I'm a little stuck on the vow-writing, while David is starting to wonder if I really know why I'm marrying him.

I would certainly be remiss and a poor nearly-spouse if I didn't send you over to AviatorDave's Logbook, where he wrote "Critiquing the critics" the other day. A post that anyone with any internet-surfing experience might appreciate.

It's not merely word snobbery (more on that in a moment) that prompts such posts, even though we all play Scrabble online. Though I should mention that you don't necessarily require an extensive vocabulary to do well Scrabble, since professional players depend on memorisation rather than full word/definition comprehension.

At the risk of subjecting you to more of's horrendous consumer reviews (though I doubt there'd be any at this particular item), the book Word Freak by Stefan Fatsis inspired a 2002 documentary called Word Wars. We watched it via Netflix last week, and I can assure you that high-ranking Scrabble players -- or, at least those who try to do this for a living -- are no strangers to, um, strangeness.

For example, one of the top seeded players is GI Joel Sherman, a New Yorker thin of hair and body who slugs Maalox throughout every Scrabble game and in Word Wars states with alacrity that he has no other marketable skills. The 'GI' stands for 'gastro-intestinal'. (I recommend both the book and film, by the way.) It should come as no surprise that people obsessed with a board game get pinned with labels of 'idiosyncratic' or even 'nutty', but GI Joel is especially endearing (at least to me) because he plays the piano and sings The Beatles' "Across the Universe" with a forlorn charm.

See, what I'm talking about when I say it's not merely word snobbery is my contention that every time a reader encounters Netspeak or internet lingo, misspelled words, terrible grammar, butchered semantics, et cetera, the brain has to de-code it... which is... MORE WORK! Yes, more work than if it were spelled correctly/the right word/flowed better. I've read more than enough arguments about the so-called decline of language and not enough scientific explanation why it bothers people in the first place. Maybe it's because I'm more of a visual person that I depend on matching the word housed in my brain with the word on the screen or in print. When it doesn't match, my mind catches on it like a snagged sweater. A whole paragraph of Netspeak means a sweater full of snags that my mind spent far too long trying to unsnarl, and would prefer to throw away.