The sophistication of the speech bubble
Karin (19), my youngest nephew's new girlfriend, is a child of her times. Having grown up with comics, text-messaging and the Internet, she says "yawn" when she finds something boring. Instead of laughing, she says "lol" (laugh out loud). And when we recently complimented her on her nice legs, she replied "blush". This way of talking, which takes some getting used to at first, can be catching. You feel like you're in a comic, you laugh and yawn and get embarrassed but never in a rude sort of way, you don't let out a snort of laughter in an uncouth fashion or blush dim-wittedly. You make do with stage directions ? "grin"?, which serve merely to show your reaction; but how seriously they are meant, you keep to yourself. So you play along and never reveal anything. Communication breaks away from the body just as the speech bubble does with a character in a comic. This comes across as more controlled, more confident and definitely more guarded. You stay in the game and play the role of director yourself.
Simple minds believe only too readily that in communication the message comes across on its own and that technology plays no part. In actual fact, technology dominates the message. Even the good old typewriter. Like the one Friedrich Nietsche, the radical philosopher, bought in 1881. A Hansen model. And alas, his way of thinking was transformed in a short space of time. Where his previous writing style was erudite and well-argued, he started phrasing things in an aphoristic and pointed manner. The mechanics of the typewriter were guiding the master's hand and the staccato of the keyboard carried over into the way he expressed himself.
Man proposes, technology disposes.
Just look at communications technology. Up until 1824 a message would arrive as quickly as a horse could run. Then along came the steam engine, although not much quicker. In 1840, Samuel Morse invented the telegraph - and all of a sudden, messages could circulate like electricity, in other words, in an instant. The telegraph created the "global village" - and almost certainly how people communicated at the same time: in telegraphic style. Its strength lies in speed, which is required for the transport of perishable goods, such as news and fragmented messages. Since then, we're better informed about Naomi Campbell's angry outbursts than about progress in the field of brain research. Communication is getting richer but more shallow; more colourful but also more trivial.
All this leaves Karin cold. "Yawn". But not us. If we didn't understand the interplay between the spoken word and communications technology, we could be forgiven for thinking that Karin isn't even a real person made of flesh and blood. More like an animated character, jumping out of the display of her mobile phone. Text-messaging style even in table talk. We get speech bubbles, and what Karin really thinks, she keeps to herself. Rather cunning: in turbulent times, it's better to stand on the sidelines and not get too involved.