I unearthed some fairly interesting research on the language used in IMs. It’s a quick read – certainly one of the shorter pieces I’ve found and commented on.
The main point, and that which is presenting new possibilities of research to me, is that instant messaging is more like speech than it is writing. I never even thought of it, but the simplicity of that assertion makes studying the effects on IM and text-messaging on more formal writing a far different task than the one I embarked upon six weeks ago. I think to more accurately study IM and text-messaging, one would have to approach the emergent literacy as a combination of speech and writing, a method of communication that might present far more intricacies than either speech or writing separately.
Social norms must be taken into account, as the audience is a specific, ever-changing one. This is more of a concern for speech than for writing. Most writing occurs with a specific, static audience in mind. How does IM and text-messaging marry these two seemingly opposite purposes together? In this instance, my initial guess is that, if we were to think of writing and speaking as if on a spectrum (with IM sliding somewhere in the middle), this new literacy would lean more toward speaking than writing. Furthermore, the exchange between two individuals is far closer to speaking than it is writing. Even in cases when one is writing a letter (or email) to another person, the receiver can only respond once she is made to read the entirety of the message.
However, it would be negligent on the part of the researcher to disregard facts that sway IM more toward writing than speaking, or those elements that seem to blow IM off the proposed spectrum altogether.
Consider what commonly occurs during IM “conversations.” While one IMer is making a point about one topic, the other IMer may very well, at the same instance, be typing about something entirely different. Once the conversation-starting (-changing) comments are made by one, the other must choose to either respond immediately to that point or continue on with his point. One point may be lost, or returned to only after the other point has been exhausted. No social norms are being followed in this case: each IMer has her own agenda, and is perfectly willing to carry out that agenda at the same moment her “conversation” partner is carrying out his own agenda. Such exchanges would be awkward and, indeed, impossible with speech if two people hoped to take any meaning away from what the other is saying. Clearly this is far closer to writing than speaking.
Sigh. I can’t imagine how my wife was able to set her goals so seemingly effortlessly when it came time to choose her dissertation topic. The more I read the more questions I have. What’s different in my life now than, say, two years ago, is that I want to be the one to answer those questions.