Chemo Brain and Bravery
The Democratic Wins in Tuesday's Election

Crabby Old Lady and End of Literacy

Okay, maybe Crabby Old Lady is overstating it in that headline, but voice and and tiny little pictographs appear to be taking over human communication at the expense of the written word.


It's not just email and texting. When you add Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterist, Snapchat, etc. - all of which often use more photos, video and emoji than words – it appears that the written word is in danger of disappearing.

Before she goes any further, let Crabby admit that since last January, she has owned two Amazon Echo devices – one re-gifted from a TGB reader who didn't want it and another that Crabby, who was amused by the first one, bought for the bedroom at the other end of her home.

She doesn't use them as extensively as many people (and she certainly does not have a “smart home” to command with them), but just by asking she can find out the weather forecast, set a timer, listen to radio or to music or order up the latest news to be read to her, or a book, add items to her grocery shopping list, check the instructions on a recipe while she is cooking and much more.

You can see the insidious attraction.

California entertainment lawyer, Jon Pfeiffer, reported recently on a Harris poll that asked people of varying ages if emoji communicate better than the written word:

”...36% of millennials said that emojis convey their thoughts and emotions better than traditional words. About half as many baby boomers agree.

“However, when you look only at emotion, around 40% of baby boomers prefer emojis. This is not quite as many as the 66% of millennials, but it is still a huge percentage nonetheless.'”

Pfeiffer also quotes Professor John Sutherland on the subject:

“'In the future, less words and letters will be used in messaging as pictures and icons take over the text speak language.'”

(Crabby would be more inclined to take Sutherland seriously, however, if he – a professor of modern English literature at University College London - did not have such a poor grasp of English language grammar.)

Nevertheless, she still worries that these two men are on to something.

Crabby knows that every generation, especially as it ages, believes the world, now run by younger generations, is going to hell in a handbasket. So far that hasn't happened but the loss of widespread literacy would have devastating effect on civilization.

This loss seems to be progressing on several fronts beyond pictures replacing words.

Consider the assault on thought, focus and concentration of the modern workplace. Even before Crabby retired in 2004, cubicles had taken over and she, a writer and editor then, had been give a “cube” next to sales people on two sides of her who were on the phone all day. Yak, yak, yak as Crabby tried to bring clarity to her own and others' writing.

Nowadays, they've even removed cubicle dividers in favor of open space and shared tables, and as voice commands increasingly become the norm over typewriting and tapping, it's not just literacy that is in peril, but thought itself.

Another development is the increased use online of video news reports without an accompanying print story. Even though Crabby produced television shows for more than two decades, she was keenly aware that pictures are an enhancement that are incapable of transmitting nuance and detail in a two- or even five-minute story.

Not to mention that is takes much longer to watch a video news story than read it in print.

Plus, we're talking to our screens almost as much as we are reading them or writing onto them. Some business researchers expect that 50 percent of searches will be done by voice by 2020. If you're not concerned about literacy, at least consider the cacophany – yet another way to prevent reason, intellect and understanding.

Crabby's concern about all this was raised by Lori Orlov's bi-weekly online column, Aging in Place Technology Watch. On Monday, Orlov concluded:

”Our devices, our adult selves – what happened to words? So we are speaking (or shouting) 50% of our queries to our devices, texting selfie animojis and receiving a word or two plus more emojis in return.

“And to add to our not-so-smart phone use, we are overwhelmed by auto-play videos in Facebook, Twitter, and Google Chrome...

“Imagine those noisy employee meetings at Apple (median age 31), Google (median age 30), and Facebook (median age 28) as staffers hunch over their emoji menus, play videos by accident and spend quality time searching for a charging location.”

Those age demographics Orlov includes are not about how youngsters are befouling our literacy. The greater importance is that they will grow older and this will be their normal when it's their turn (not so far off) to run the world.

In case you're not up to speed on this stuff (Crabby was not until now), here are links to what may soon pass for communication and thought, an emojipedia and an emoji keyboard. These are hardly the only ones.

What's your take on all this?


I'm from the dinosaurs. I don't like to talk to "things". I prefer to talk to people. I hate the telephone voice menus that try to sound so chummy. Even my car has a voice recognition function. I don't want to talk to my car. It feels weird.

I know... I've got to get over it.

First, I had to look up Amazon Echo. I wouldn't want one, but not a bad price unless there is some type of additional charge for all those uses. My sister who was blind could have used one.

As for emojis, I find them occasionally useful as an adjunct to informal written communications. They can be used to add context to a comment, sometimes preventing misunderstandings that may occur without actual voice or visual backup.

Well . . . My thoughts.

After having spent over thirty years toiling over writing sentences at an eight grade level I have to agree with these authors. "A picture is worth a thousand words".

As a writer then editor of hundreds of technical styled manuals I struggled to keep documents in a contractually agreed style (ie; The Chicago Manual of Style), and at the same time write so those college graduated 'illiterates' could understand. Thus the eight grade level writing style.

It's not easy to take technical material often written in poorly constructed 'technicalese' and rewrite it at a lower level. Grammatik was my guide.

My formatted manuals began in the 70s with a photo embedded in the text. By the 90s the photos were drawn by expensive illustrators and took an entire page. By the 90s the format was: left page a drawing, right page a brief explanation, all accompanied by a moderator ("facilitator") to explain what they were seeing. Target level audience had an attention span of a Fruit Fly! Seven minutes at the max.

Today I have noticed that most "just pick things up" and just "figure things out" on their own.

Just my thought . .

"Hey, Siri, ....?" coming from my husband was most annoying to me as opposed to his delight with the new toy after his last iPhone update. Fortunately, the new has worn off, and it is only an occasional disturbance now. I even find myself occasionally using voice commands when my hands are full. It's just another adjustment in the tech advanced world to which I've become so addicted. I wouldn't want to give up the convenience and access to information.

All in all, I'm adjusting. These changes are more reasons for me to be delighted to have graduated from the work force. Plus, they are keeping us more in touch with people important to us that would be sorely lacking since the habit of letter writing and lengthy phone calls have been relegated to the history bin. Time is spread over different daily routines now.

You are hitting my rising anger and anxiety spot regarding what the world is coming to. (ending in a preposition?)

There are "fewer and fewer" (not less) people of younger age who know how to have a face-to-face conversation. I am looking forward to seeing how my great-nieces and nephew and their significant others (all in their 20's) mix with the 2 older generations at Thanksgiving.

The fact of more communication hardware and varied avenues of the software has made for less intimacy, fewer words typed and virtually no spoken words between family members. It feels like we have become strangers. Maybe it is just me and the gathering will show me something different.

In the meantime, a bit of warmth and hope in yesterday's elections. If only.

Two thoughts here - I will avoid the Echo and its ilk until such time as I can be convinced it can understand my speech better than Siri does on my Iphone.

I probably have a bit of a southern accent, yet my best friend has a distinctly northern one. Siri cannot seem to get either of our voice text messages correct. We have had many good laughs over some of the things Siri thinks we have said and has attempted to transfer to the written word!

Secondly, as a grandmother of teenagers I have transitioned over time into the often bizarre world of tweets, emojis, snapchats et al as it is inevitably my best hope of remaining in contact with (and somewhat relevant to) them. It is what it is.

My greatest annoyance these days is the ubiquitous spelling and/or grammatical errors on a certain cable news page. Who is writing this stuff? I have even sent emails volunteering as a last-minute proofer prior to publication online. They never respond...

Re emojis: That's pretty much what the Egyptians used, isn't it? 😊

well, I am with you two, Ronni and Crabby. As someone who lives for words, who spends all the remaining energy she has trying to find the right words for what I want to say, as someone who is thrilled by words, excited by the genius of those whose words mean so much to me --- as someone who also loves the non-verbal, i.e. art -- but who thinks and writes about it with more words ----- as someone who, probably like Crabby, finds emoji and all the other things simply an avoidance of the work involved in thinking about and creating a written text -----

By the way, I had no idea what you meant by an Amazon Echo. Shows how behind I am. It sounds intriguing. But not for me, I suspect.

Words for me are creation. Life.

My grandson away at college called me yesterday to apologize for not acknowledging the written communications I had sent since the beginning of the semester. He just had not thought to look in his mailbox, although he noted “I know some people like to get letters.” He doesn’t open his e-mail much either. I am working hard to accept the reality of modern communication, but I can’t help wondering what will come next.
And Pamela, I understand your frustration. After over 50 years living in the States, I find that I am unintelligible to most computers and I have had to learn the easiest ways to get connected with a “real” person.

A friend of mine has a daughter with Down Syndrome; she cannot read or write well. When they gave her an iphone to use Julie began communicating like mad with emoji's. Now they know much more of what she is feeling. It opened up communication between Julie and her parents.

Who me? I don't use that stuff. What good is it! grumble, grumble.

Then, I think of the times I enter the keystrokes for - :) just to say I'm smiling, not grouchy with my opinions.
Or speak softly to my tablet to say: "Ok Google", asking what the score is in the basketball game I don't have time to watch.

Somehow, I think there will be the usual shakedown cruise and all this will be work out after a while.

An interesting side-story: The Emojipedia link at the end shows new emoji's for 2017, including the person meditating in lotus position. This emoji was actually created by a reporter as part of story about where Emoji's come from. This episode of the podcast "99% Invisible" gives the whole story:

I don't do voice commands of any kind but I have embraced the use of emojis on social media. I am a 68-year-old retiree who wants to stay in touch with my four adult children, their spouses and my six grandchildren. Social media has enhanced all of those relationships. My 75-year-old husband is just as likely to text or email family members as I am. We stay involved in their many daily activities even though we are hours apart. I love that!

However, I do agree that the loss of good writing skills is a consequence of this new technology. And I do wish all of today's journalists would take the time to edit and spell-check just as Pamela states in one of the previous comments.

Being able to communicate, to express my thoughts, to understand new ideas are all accomplished, for me, with words. We have dictionaries which define these words and allow us to understand the meaning conveyed by each other. But, if I send someone a message with a flower, what does that convey? Love, appreciation, sadness, or that I merely love to garden? At a time when we have a mature (in age only) president who cannot even express the simplest thoughts intelligently, I wonder what is happening to us.

I do not want to communicate with others by using pictures of bunnies, buildings, piles of poop, or tongues. That just does not work for me.

And do not get me started about illegible handwriting!!!!!

As a retired editor, I'm as distressed as anyone about what seems to be the growing decline in literacy among our young people. I blame a lot of it on the media, but then, that's probably because their employees are younger and younger. But I must speak up on behalf of an occasional emoji. Certain things like humor and irony can be misinterpreted in text, and emoji help clarify that.

As for voice commands ... huge convenience but it took me a long time to get used to talking to my Xbox. "Xbox, on" when I enter the room is a convenient way to turn on the TV in the morning, but it was several months before I stopped saying "thank you" when it responded!

I really want a voice command thermostat, as I try to keep up with outdoor temps, indoor temps, and my personal body temp (plus it's controllable by phone from the bedroom or elsewhere). I see a Nest in my future, eventually. But meantime, I'm rather resistant to voice command. I'm finally used to saying "Xbox ... " but Cortana, Siri, and Alexa are out there too. Not sure I could remember which name to use when.

About the only emojis I ever use are: (1) hearts, to add extra affection to a row of xxx for someone I care about and (2) smiley faces to emphasize a jokey remark. I got used to using these in years gone by when it was kind of cute to make them with punctuation marks.

None of the others appeal to me because I have a generalized dislike of what I call 'Disneyfied images' (I never got over my intense indignation about the ghastly Disneyfication of Winnie-the-Pooh et al).

I don't talk to electronic gadgets. I did try saying 'Hello Google' one day just to see it if worked, but haven't done it since. I value peace and quiet too highly to be spending time conversing with inanimate objects. But peace and quiet are vanishing from our world even faster than literacy. Life now is all noise, all the time. I often wonder what that constant barrage of sound is doing to people's mental health; nothing good, I suspect.

I spent one year of my life transcribing Emergency Room notes from physicians by editing the spoken word. I am here to tell you we have a long way to go to become literate if those transcriptions were supposed to be accurate. For a while I kept a record of the hilarious mistakes that the spoken word made. I shudder to think what would happen if the person doing the transcription did not have an excellent medical terminology background and also the critical thinking skills to determine if what they were reading was accurate or needed further research. It was very frustrating and more than scary!! Alas, I am so saddened by the direction our literacy is taking! Thanks for letting me vent, Ronni!

Addendum: I think that perhaps emojis may have been more effective at times!

Hmmm, my husband and I must be old-fashioned, as we don’t talk to any devices. Our grandchildren (still young, but the six year old and the four year old are already reading) seem to move seamlessly between devices like tablets and “ the real world. “ As a retired English teacher, I used to bemoan the loss of standards and the current lack of literacy..until I saw the posts of people my own age (I am 68) online. Some are barely readable and the grammar is terrible. So much for the “good old days.” Also I find that some people my age are the worst users of corny memes and emojis.

I trace most of what has gone in the wrong direction since WWII to the increasing and now nearly total dominance of television. I noted that, in 1980, we elected an actor, roughly when nearly all the boomers -- the first folks marinated in TV "thinking" while entering adulthood -- began voting. The slide has continued and now we have a TV buffoon in that same spot.

TV is an insidious and powerful attractant, precisely tuned to get and hold primate attention for the purpose of selling that attention to advertisers (or "underwriters"). It dramatically changes the quality of discourse in a society.

I highly recommend Neil Postman's book "Amusing Ourselves to Death" to anyone who wants to understand why things are so bad today.

I have a hearing loss so I do not want another gadget that I am unable use because I am unable to understand what it being said. I find it unnerving to talk to my computer.
Until Echo comes with a closed captioning screen I will be unable to know whether it's worth it or not. Ditto for smart phones.

I guess the old adage applies to me; Too soon old, too late smart. No Emoji

If people think that emojis express their thoughts better than words, then I think their vocabulary is at fault. Emojis are blunt instruments; our magnificent English vocabulary is capable of subtlety and nuance. But people develop vocabulary--and grammar--by reading, and writing. From my experience reading internet articles I have concluded that people do not know how to write well. And I have to surmise they are not reading much, either.

So, emojis are a shortcut to express feelings or reactions. To the man with a hammer, every problem is a nail.

Technology came along just in time to help me stay independent as my eyes gradually fail. Use of my voice and ears really makes keeping up with emailing, texting and getting around possible. Apps are available for my smart phone for magnification, both of the screen and of , say, a menu. I can listen to the radio (NPR, of course) and podcasts as well. Audible books are right there on my phone. It's nice to ask Google for sports scores, weather info, etc.

There are hyper expensive text-to-speech readers available to people with vision challenges which I may have to get, but later rather than sooner. I get frustrated with older people like me (80+) who refuse to take advantage of new technology to get along easier with failing vision. (Thinking of my otherwise smart brother) Their choice, but they're missing out.

To think that the "Smiley Face" of y'or and the :-) that began the pictorial expression of emotion, have exploded into gillions of emojis. I use them sparingly and without apologies.

I find emojis annoying and it cracks me up to think that in the time it takes someone to scroll through to choose one they could have easily typed a word. Shortcut - ha! Another thing: I understand that some schools no longer teach cursive writing, and as I search genealogy records I can see where this may create a challenge in the future, as the older records were handwritten in cursive.

I remember ten years or so ago hearing the principal at the school where I taught say she thought the e-mail trend was a good thing since kids would be more interested in spelling and grammar in order to communicate this way. Obviously, she had not had much experience with e-mail communication at the time and it certainly has become so much less about traditional literacy skills since then.

Heaven forgive me, I still love good literature, and a lively in-person conversation. A picture may be worth a thousand words..........but which picture, or image? I went to the emotipedia and instantly loathed the plastic, over colored, stupid looking faces.Those are emotions? And I used to think Hallmark cards were awful! This is way beyond superficial.

I love the emojis! I use them all the time in my texts to my family. The hearts when I love someone or something, the birthday cake and the party horn for celebrations, the palm trees and the sun when I travel to warm places, the poo and the one finger salute when I am feeling naughty; they all are better than typing on my little keyboard.

Keeping in touch with my family and friends is important to me - and I embrace all of the methods to communicate - Facebook, Instagram, Texting and good old phone calls (the exception is twitter - I need a lesson from my granddaughter).

Letters are nice and I miss getting newsy letters and pretty cards, but a click is the next best thing.

Thanks for confirming from an informed perspective something I feel but have never been able to prove: "... it takes much longer to watch a video news story than read it in print." I haven't got time for getting news through video and find it distracting, not informative.

In general, I describe myself as "icon-challenged" -- that is, I do not intuitively understand what little pictures are trying to convey. This is a foreign vocabulary for me, requiring the same sort of effort I might put into reading a language I only partially grasp.

On the other hand, from the beginning of the email era, I've sprinkled my communications with the wink sign [:-)] to try to convey that I did not mean to offend ...

I suppose I need to blow the money on a fancy phone rather than pay the bills on daughters car. Ah, even texting is beyond me. LOL

I don't mind emojis, what really annoys me is the preponderance of initials and acronyms. Sometimes articles are so peppered with them I have no idea what it's about. I get BLT, BTW, smog and snafu and a few others, but after that I'm pretty much lost - especially in terms of tech-talk.

Look to buzzfeed for the future. Even the NYTimes has succumbed to the flashing pictures that distract rather than concentrate your thoughts. Emojis are old hat by now. The ; (wink) and the smile have been around for a long time. Some of them are quite inventive, certainly more so than the ready-made ones. Videos are used now because of ad blockers - they draw you in and inflict ads upon you that are longer than the news on the video. I own no echo devices and don't want all of that stuff echoing into my head. One of those things that help you contact someone when you fall and can't get up is as far as I go.

Of all the stuff you can do with computers, I love email best because it is so fast, but I'm told I use it all wrong. It seems that I took too seriously that its name contains the word mail, so what I write is e-letters, that is , email long enough to express my feelings or convey ideas or news. I always hope for e-letters in return, which I seldom get, but I'm making progress in getting my family to treat this techie shortcut as if it were true communication. Only one relative persists in using textese in emails, as in "u r rite," a practice which drives me mad. Everyone uses emojis, so I occasionally throw in one, but always ironically. I agree wholeheartedly with Heidi's assertion that in the time spent looking for the appropriate emoji, one could write a whole sentence.

As for voice command devices, I have yet to find one that can understand me even though I swear that I speak and enunciate quite clearly. Siri's translations of my early attempts were outrageously (and sometime hilariously) garbled, so I gave up. Maybe one problem is background interference in my home from the always-on NPR news and interview station. Anyway, I think that we're all going to be screwed in future when numerous little girls are named Siri, Cortana, or Alexa, as they inevitably will be.

Before I go, I want to thank Lola for reminding me of SNAFU, an ancient acronym which I've loved ever since my WW II veteran uncle told me that it meant Situation Normal All Fucked Up, which perfectly defines my life.

Emojis? I had to look it up. Kind of seems like more clutter to me.

My perspective is to welcome all systems that enable communication by whatever means. Just as with everything else — book, movie, theatre, TV, music, tech devices, Apps, etc., etc. — we have the opportunity to select what we prefer using or need (especially if special needs such as hearing/vision loss, other limitations of all kinds).

I could foresee circumstances where a device such as Echo would be convenient and useful, but for now it would be little more than a novelty plaything for me. Also, I haven’t read anywhere yet that some previously described privacy concerns have been resolved for these devices.

I view emojis as offering the opportunity to add some of the nonverbal aspects of language to a written message, but only a few of such emojis will likely be used by me. I don’t anticipate spending time searching through all the others available to find one or more to add to most messages I send. I expect there is a segment of tech users who will have great fun using many of those novelty emojis.

When our parents told us that the world was going to hell in a handbasket, they were wrong. But have you considered that when we tell our children the world is going to hell in a handbasket . . . we could be right!

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