hel·low (ˈhelō/) exclamation. A salutation embodying the vibrant energy found in the color yellow.

28 November 2012

140 Characters or Less

As I am sitting around the table for Thanksgiving Dinner, my grandma is telling me about her time as a stenographer. She told me about shorthand—where one can write lines and dashes in regards to the sounds being emitted in conversation. It made for scarily fast documentation and was ideal for recording conversations. My grandma had been extremely gifted in this regard, as she could write in shorthand faster than people could talk. She told me stories of how her teachers in high school would speak as quickly as possible, switching the tone and pitch of their voices in attempts to throw her off. But my grandma would recite back to them exactly what was said. It was a phenomenal skill. She told me about Thanksgiving Dinners when she was kid. She would sit back with her steno pad and record her parents and relative speaking around the table. When they were done talking, she would recite the entire conversation back to them. I was engrossed. I had her write my name in shorthand. A six-character name—Justin—was reduced to two quick flicks of the wrist, resulting in something that looked like an italicized ‘h’. It was genius.
As I got to thinking about shorthand, I started to wonder why it had died. Quick recording was definitely a highly-regarded need in the modern age—probably more so than ever. We want minimalistic accuracy. Shorter. Sweeter. Simpler. Communication is key to any aspect of life, and when it is elegantly frugal, it is most effective and beautiful. Why, then, did shorthand largely disappear? Or, more accurately, why was it never adopted for public use?
In the rise of social media and the digital transfer of information, most communication is done through text. Whether it be emailing, messaging, texting, tweeting, or whatever, a reliance on characters has become nearly unavoidable. As a result, people are writing much more. Not with the hands, as cursory handwriting has been eliminated from most education systems and printing has declined in neat/careful+ness, but through typing. People can type as fast as my grandma could write shorthand. On the surface, the move to typing would be common sense, as the text could be CTRL+C & CTRL+V <copy and pasted> infinitely many times. It could be reformatted and edited—if need be—and is written in uniform characters which would be readable by anyone. Anyone, that is, who can read the language of documentation. As character typing seems more effective, I feel that it loses the universal abilities of shorthand. If this style of writing was truly subjected to sounds alone, it could, potentially, be used to document the speaking of any language in perfect detail. By reading back the sounds, one could potentially recite any tongue. This is something characters cannot represent. In the English language, characters do not fully reconstruct sounds. Rather, they can stand in place of ideas or meanings.
With so much text-based communication, we often inject emotions and symbols (like the ever famous UNICODE SNOWMAN! ) 8^B <<< this is a nerd-face emoticon.
In a sense, this new form of life documentation is more natural and fluid. Formal conversations no longer require a stenographer. Anyone can pull out a smart-phone and text his/her thoughts to Twitter or Facebook or the tumbleweed rampant Google+. While we may not be recording conversations in a potentially universal medium, we are keeping an ongoing log of our lives and thoughts in the most efficient form possible.
While my grandma reminisces on writing shorthand on her steno-pad, I pull out my phone and tweet about the table conversations in 140 characters or less.
Elegance in the art resides in selecting those ≤ 140 characters.

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