What the Internet Offers for Communication And What It Doesn’t

Sam Tran ’23

 In a recent report published by the Pew Research Center, almost 85 percent of Americans go online daily. Among that number, a considerable portion of people use the internet to communicate via social media. This new form of communication, which only began to develop over the last few decades, has evolved at an astronomical rate. There are always two sides to the coin with any new invention, and the same can be said about internet communication. 

 Ever since it was possible to communicate on the internet, internet users have created a plethora of internet slang, phrases, and new text styles like blogging and tweeting. Grammar snobs do not need to look any further than their friend’s Facebook post to see strange abbreviations, misspelled words, and wrong punctuation. However, research shows that new styles of language might just be more suitable for the modern age. 

 An area where the internet voice excels is in its conversations among its users. According to David Crystal, a renowned linguist, online forms of communication such as texting are more similar to speaking than traditional forms of writing. Even though our interactions happen via the fingers, we still have things like “text conversations” and “group chats.” Compared to the formal style, which has rigid grammar rules, texting is often more relaxed. With abbreviations (such as LOL) and capitalization of certain words, texting lets users convey their messages through a couple of taps on the keyboard while still allowing a wide array of expressions. For example, one might express anger or shock by capitalizing all the letters in a text. 

 Besides texting, online communication via Twitter and Facebook can help improve users’ language skills. Gretchen McCulloch, a Montreal-based linguist, says people who use the internet increase their English skills rather than decrease them like some may think. For example, Twitter users are more likely to pass by new groups of people on the internet, meaning that they will constantly come across new ideas and new ways to express them. Even more, by having a 230-character limit, it trains users to structure their thoughts into concise, pithy statements. Regarding emojis, which are becoming more and more prevalent, McCulloch believes that emojis allow us to be simultaneously more expansive and precise with our language. 

 And yet, these newfound benefits have their downsides. Online anonymity offers vast possibilities for internet users, but it also causes great harm. A Dartmouth College article explains that anonymity means that some internet users can get away with anything, even the insults of “certain Greek houses by exploiting stereotypes and spreading false rumors,” as shown on an experimental social media app. Although the experiment might only be one specific example, this is not rare among internet users. On a larger scale, Twitter is infamous for users with controversial tweets who target or bully others. 

As Berkshire students, we all live and spend much of our time online.  The internet grants us the ability to have casual conversations and new ways to express ourselves. However, its freedom also permits offensive statements or harassment toward different groups of people. In this new landscape of the internet, it is our responsibility to be aware of the pros and cons of online communication. This is not only for ourselves but for others.