Spoken or written? Beyond the trends and into the data

When Lorde released her first album, late 2013, the opening verses asked: “don’t you think that it’s boring how people talk?” Meanwhile, I was trying to find myself. After an invitation to speak for the new group studying Discourse in college, where I outlined the concepts I dealt with for a publication in the undergraduate magazine, I went back home and started to think of why I wasn’t ready for post graduation, and maybe not even for that little presentation. I remember the day I went into the library with my laptop (which got stolen, cause this is Brazil) and picked up thick Linguistics handbooks, searched for the authors I knew and transcribed excerpts I was going to use, on the day before. The library visits were supposed to be routine, but I didn’t use to do this at all: I was busy at work, teaching English to people working in São Paulo businesses. When I learned I had to read Ulysses to get my diploma, I just chose to keep my workload and spend the money, an unforgivable mistake and probably an insult to the Irish people; but that doesn’t mean I wasn’t coming to meetings of Irish literature specialists or dealing with streams of conscience in my own personal way, so to speak. Fast forward to now, I’m the lame dude who’s trying to read the blurb for the winner of the National Book Award in 2009, even though I stopped at the beginning of the second chapter. But I’m here to offer some perspective on why we interrupt and get interrupted – which happens on every level of language, if you don’t wanna take this as a life lesson from random guy number two hundred.

First off, people don’t read books, period. If we’re the generation that didn’t try to understand tech, it’s because we think it’s normal to record ourselves; but try to be a published author in 2020 and you’ll see what I mean. It’s very comforting to see that a few journalists I know have started book clubs: Rebecca Renner, in the US, and Gabriela Prioli, in Brazil, not as a national initiative or funded by anyone else except themselves; but I remember when it was Felix Kjellberg talking about his favorites (he did it again in 2018). As the number one content producer on YouTube for years, he definitely has something to say about why we consume media; however, books aren’t exactly media, and he says he had to stop halfway several times. Why? Because whatever we think famous people are doing online, people are busy texting. Is this normal? Research indicates that the average young adult, who’s 18 to 24, sends or receives 50 messages a day, while that number shrinks in half for people in the 25-34 group. The problem, aside the category of adult being split in between younger and older, is that research is from 9 years ago. More recently, in 2018, it’s been reported that media consumption has changed very little when it comes to the source of information, and it seems people still turn on their TVs afterall; but 47% prefer watching to reading, at 34%. But we’re not worried about who empathizes with the mission of big communications, because at this point we’re all a bit nauseated, if not desperate. Maybe not everyone can sit comfortably behind a homemade work desk, look at pretty pictures for inspiration and write about an aspect of society that isn’t related to what we can do to avoid sickness; but I have a question that resonates, at least, discussions that I remember having when I was preparing to be a teacher: if the printed word had more authority and the broadcasted word came to replace it, what should we say about the self-published?

Nope, this isn’t about me. Everyone texts, and recent data shows over 90% of people in Brazil use their phones for that, which tells you that their focus isn’t necessarily YouTube or Twitter. You could definitely jump to conclusions: we just want to talk. But that isn’t necessarily true: some of us want to sell a product and work on personal branding, but also spread ideas, contribute to a public discussion, make sure every right is being respected across cultures, and so forth; on a different level, most of us want to watch, read, or basically just consume. The clash between digital businesses and digital lives seems difficult to frame, especially when we take into account the nature of our interactions: nobody ever asked how many two second conversations we’ve had, and there’s future in that kind of research; but it’s also a private matter for both men and women, boys and girls. Sure, there’s a difference between sharing a reaction image over messaging and sharing an article feautured in a major news vehicle adding your comment and tagging someone who needs to answer it, but we all want the badge of inclusivity so we can be employee of the month just once in our lifetime – that is, if we’re getting paid. Maybe we just don’t feel like showing up at work, because we’re not satisfied with the wage balanced with the stress. But are we showing up?

The workplace demands attention, but everything about the internet – the new workplace – distracts us. How are you supposed to evaluate how well you perform, from the simple task to the monthly goal and everything in between? If you take teaching, for instance, into account, you’re doing your part on preparation and study, as well as assessment, but if you want to push towards the best possible performance, you end up resigning from most of your plans in your personal life – and it’s not enough anyway. But the teacher isn’t the full workforce: from the receptionist to the cleaner to the manager to the director, everyone should feel good when they’re part of a team. The question is how we deal with other people participating in decisions that this closed group is supposed to make: I personally think that’s why a great deal of Brazilians rejects Paulo Freire’s idea of teaching for students but also with students. They just want to say no, get out of here. My business, my rules. If we’re not talking about private schools, is that a fair assessment — and is it a fair policy?

If the future of the web is work, there are basically two ways to look it: let them talk or don’t. Where are you on the scale that goes from one side to the other? Are you more interested in texting because you can read it back? Do you show your conversations to anyone, like it’s 2010 and you’re forwarding an e-mail? If people still forward e-mails, then I might have missed the point. While the educational models from abroad may indicate that learning more about technology early in your school life might provide you with the right tools for a successful career, few are talking about how teenagers do networking, and that opens many breaches: you spent 2 hours on a videocall, and that’s totally okay until it’s over; the tweet with over 10 thousand likes granted you some followers, but you have no idea who they are; you just turned 18 and decided to follow Verizon on Twitter; when is your next appointment with a therapist? That’s why I like Lorde: the internet made me who I am, but every time I ask my parents, they say I need some time off. Not everything is connected, and that’s great. But when I’m not staring at a screen and come back to reality, where my voice isn’t being recorded and my thoughts aren’t put into text, I don’t usually say a word about washing the dishes, putting my clothes outside or making coffee; later, we can talk about something else. Then I go back online, and feel the need to tell everyone what I’m doing; am I supposed to record a video saying that I couldn’t find the lid for the blue tupperware where I put the rice? If you agree that I don’t, let’s just say that knowing who’s talking to who isn’t gonna make us happier or more successful, regardless of what they’re saying or how: sharing what we feel or think in text, speech or nonverbal communication shouldn’t be later disencouraging us from participating in society; it’s the other way around. We’re gonna have another go. Another call, another stranger texting. Nothing wrong with that — it might even make us more accepting of human circumstance, instead of focusing on who’s following the rules and who’s not. But some people are going to stop there, because when you open your mouth, you become a different person. That’s a huge challenge in the international context, and we still don’t have an answer on how we’re going to deal with people who just learned English and want to participate. When Brazil goes from 1% to 25% second language fluency, maybe we can start visualizing a new landscape of communication. Teenagers are smart, and it might take less time than we think; but the challenges will be different, and we have to be ready for them.

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