Text will continue to be a primary means of communication going forward. However, despite unbelievable progress in methods for distributing information (internet, television, cell phones, personal computers, eReaders), our ability to convey rich messages through strings of words is still extremely limited. Digital text now consumes all aspects of our daily lives with MMS, Email, Websites, Tweets, Status Updates, Blogs, Research, etc, but little has advanced in the arsenal of word-communication since Shakespeare’s day (and long before). Furthermore the current trending towards brevity has put an even greater pressure on general prose and highlights the need for innovation.
Resources have evolved for cramming more into less. Hyper-linking words to other articles, condensing URLs (bit.ly), embedding videos, bolding and italics, and even smiley faces enable us to pack a bigger punch into fewer words as we vie for ever-shrinking attention spans. However when it comes to basic text, we are still a long way from digitally conveying the richness and subtle nuances that two people create in a simple face-to-face conversation. The SarkMark team is in their pitching with a patented symbol to denote sarcasm, however use of their syntax is still extremely limited and their focus on creating a business model before serious adoption is hurting them. Nonetheless they are trying to provide a standardized solution to a serious problem, in this case pissing off a friend with a “lost-in-text” sarcastic comment. Ultimately, we need a simple (on-the-fly) way to layer feelings of humor, anger, importance, anxiety, concern, love, etc. into the words we type every day.
It is relatively easy to transfer the basic content of a message to another person, but when it comes to understanding the feelings of the sender (colleague, friend, or family), it is very possible to miss the boat. In the best case scenario what is lost in translation is irrelevant, but more often than not misunderstanding the embedded expectations of a message leads to hordes of wasted time and energy spent clarifying, arguing, apologizing, or simply overlooking. Consider the following sentence:
“I need you to do this for me”
This simple sentence is really 5 different sentences, and lacking to necessary tools to accurately convey the distinctions (point of this post), I will use what is available:
“I need you to do this for me”; not Fred or Tom, but “I”, a directive
“I need you to do this for me”; pleading, I’m really asking for your help to get this done
“I need you to do this for me”; just you, with a finger pointing, no one else
“I need you to do this for me”; this specific task, then you can finish your other stuff later
“I need you to do this for me“; for me, as in doing this as a favor that is owed
We need a better spice cabinet for our words. And the cabinet needs to sit directly over the metaphorical stove with the caps already unscrewed so that adding flavor (to sentences) is intuitive, route, and does not require a second thought. The technology and language to come will be seamless and as fast as touch typing, but it will also take into consideration the limits of technology at the time; keyboards with fixed key configurations, basic B&W and color printers, general education of the English language, etc. Nonetheless, advancing technology will usher in new abilities, as we are already witnessing; the advent of touch screens now increases optionality for infinite keyboards, new syntax and new forms of gesture recognition.
The time is right for a re-birth of text and this is an area of advancement that needs to come. While not a straightforward project, the implications it has on enriching the experiences of even the average reader are tremendous. If there is a group of college entrepreneurs out there thinking about this problem and prepared to leverage their networks and campus resources (linguists, calligraphy professors, computer scientists, English professors) to find a solution, we would like to meet you.