Speaking in Code


I can easily recall my first day of French class freshman year of high school. My professor’s insistence to speak entirely in French for the whole class was so overwhelming. Her aim was to totally immerse us into the world we were about to study. In the course of an hour long lecture, verbs and adjectives as foreign, unknown and surprising as my professor’s teaching style were hurled at us without warning or translation. After 5 years of French classes, I look back on this class with slight embarrassment for my fear of such elemental phrases as “Je m’appelle Madame Ahshe,” and “J’habite à Hampden.”


Today, as I use and study the web, I am struck by how elementary my social media vocabulary is. I feel like I am instantly back to that first day of French. What’s a Wiki? What’s API or RSS? Seemly overnight, this coded language based on applications and utility has not only begun to inundate my work and conversations on the web, it is being used by my friends and coworkers offline. Everyday interaction now involves at least some reference to new tech tools. “Google” has entered our lexicon as an interchangeable term for search; “Friending” now refers to collecting friends in online profile sites like Facebook and MySpace rather than naturally meeting new acquaintances on the street…


This introduction of tech language requires an entirely new kind of literacy. I struggled to learn “Good Night Moon” when I was a toddler and was trying to grasp the English language; Now, when I read GigaOm, I have the same sense of engagement and yet intimidation by the text (and it doesn’t help that the web and its jargon is changing with every click of the mouse). My goal this summer was to take up German as I am visiting Austria this August. However, my study of the language of social media has, for now, made me say “auf wiedersehen” to my hopes of learning any other language besides tech.


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