Reading Archives

With this blog, I am planning to offer, as regularly as possible, critical observations on the scholarly and popular literature analyzing the nature of archives or contributing to our understanding of archives in society. I hope this blog will be of assistance to anyone, especially faculty and graduate students, interested in understanding archives and their importance to society.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Its Gr8!

David Crystal, Txting: The Gr8 Db8 (New York: Oxford University Press, 2008).

Well-known linguist David Crystal takes on the subject of texting, its practice and its implications, in this book. He starts off by rehearsing all of the sinister and other predictions about the evils of texting on our society and especially our youth. Crystal then leads the reader through a carefully constructed analysis of the peculiarities of texting as a form of language, the reasons texting has become one of the information age phenomena, who does texting, what they text about, and so forth. He includes a glossary and a useful list of texting abbreviations (useful for someone like me who has sent about three text messages in his life); a bibliography of research about texting would have helped, but it is not a damning omission.

Crystal attempts to calm down all those who see in texting the end of the world, building a case for how it is just a matter of normal linguistic evolution – in fact, that texting “began as a natural, intuitive response to a technological problem” (p. 69), becoming a success because of its convenience. Near the end of his book, Crystal adds this assessment: “I do not see how texting could be a significant factor when discussing children who have real problems with literacy. If you have difficulty with reading and writing, you are hardly going to be predisposed to use a technology that demands sophisticated abilities in reading and writing. And if you do start to text, I would expect the additional experience of writing to be a help, rather than a hindrance” (p 157).

Archivists, and others concerned with the preservation of text, will find Crystal’s book a useful addition to their library. Although he does not address anything remotely related to archival concerns, his primer on the nature of texting provokes useful reflection about why archivists ought to be concerned about preserving evidence of this communication phenomenon (just as they have been interested in dealing with the documentary implications of the telephone and electronic mail). And archivists need to be concerned with this now, as Crystal considers texting as a cultural phenomenon: “How long will it last? It is always difficult to predict the future, when it comes to technology. Perhaps it will remain as part of an increasingly sophisticated battery of communicative methods, to be used as circumstances require. Or perhaps in a generation’s time texting will seem as archaic a method of communication as the typewriter or the telegram does today, and new styles will have emerged to replace it. For the moment, texting seems here to stay, though its linguistic character will undoubtedly alter as its use spreads among the older population” (p. 175). In other words, if archivists are to preserve anything of this technological and societal trend, they need to get busy.