Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Everyday Reflections of the Digital

As far as subway lines go, the F, M, and L trains have long trundled along their respective tracks innocuously enough. However, the recent reshuffling of the subway system which eliminated some trains and shifted the routes of others as a result of severe budgetary issues has brought an Internet meme to life.

While some may feel that F/M/L accurately describes the subway experience, there was a time when these three letters would mean nothing more than the line designations they are assigned to, but as a sign of the ways digital sociality is permeating daily life, New York City Transit has decided to redo the signage that gave rise to this particular association. This signals two things worth noting: First, that language is changing, and second, that there is recognition of a generation for whom the letters F, M, and L will always have a specific meaning when combined as such.

Surely, Reader, you will acknowledge that language has been changing for some time with the rise of Internet slang and acronyms. Perhaps you've seen LOL or IMHO in an email from a colleague or in a paper you were grading. You probably use them often in your own online activities. They're used in advertising. They represent a condensed form of thought and communication, and with the rising popularity of Twitter, we have surely only experienced the trickle of what is to follow as users construct creative abbreviations to convey meaning. And as the generation for whom these types of memes are always within reach comes into maturity, it seems we need to be cautious about associations we create—which legitimizes communication that incorporates Internet slang.

Are we being too sensitive? Or witnessing a cultural transition?

In the words of Oscar Wilde, "Life imitates Art far more than Art imitates Life."


  1. I do think it's a cultural transition. Language shapes much of thought & culture, and when language changes, it's a safe bet the culture has too. Did you see the Times article about their refusal to use the slang/word 'tweet'?

    Today I just saw a huge billboard by the road for a local advertising board's Twitter account saying, 'follow us'!, complete with their @acctname I'm so used to twitter being an internet thing and spreading/being advertised solely online, that it was oddly jarring to see by the road. Interesting example of web 2.0 meeting pre-silicon tech...

  2. Did you see the response to the ban on "tweet"?

    I wasn't sure what to make of it, though I spoke to a number of journalists who saw it as a refusal to shift with the times. The alternatives proposed were extremely stoic - particularly for popular writing, in my opinion.

    Your billboard is interesting because it pulls people back into the digital world. It will be interesting to see which direction this particular dialogue favors. I have seen more attempts recently to move online interactions offline, but I have a feeling that the tendency will be to lean in the other direction for some time to come.

  3. And then there's this courtesy of Colbert: “Twitter hasn’t banned the word ‘newspaper’ and those have already faded into oblivion.”