>Always On by Naomi Baron


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Frame 1

The first chapter begins with an anecdote about a boy frightened as a large mechanical object thundered down the road, kicking up dust. The boy dove away from the road and cut himself on the barbed wire that lined either side of the road. The object, an automobile.

The point of the anecdote was to illustrate how technologies become domesticated, a term coined by Roger Silverstone and Leslie Haddon, to mean the process by which a new device becomes a normal part of everyday life. I keep coming back to the idea in M. T. Anderson’s Feed, where the internet and such technologies have become so domesticated that they are implanted in people, who can then access the internet from inside their heads. This significantly changes the way people communicate, interact with other people.

This is one of the guiding questions of Always On—“How language evolves with changes in the way we interact with other people as communication technologies become increasingly domesticated.”

Frame 2

Does the proliferation of the written word as a means of communication lessen the public view of what good writing is? Baron suggests that some of the effects of technology are obvious. It’s easier to talk to people who are farther away – when I was in second grade, my best friend moved away and I never talked to her again. In 7th grade, my best friend moved away and I never talked to her again. The two best friends I made toward the end of my middle school career now live in Indianapolis and Seattle/Texas, and because of technology, I’m able to talk (so to speak) fairly regularly. Baron also talks about how anyone can become an author/publisher, creating blogs, web pages, fanfiction, etc., sharing whatever they write with varying sizes of audiences.

Baron’s position is that “the sheer amount of text that literate Americans produce is diminishing craftsmanship” (location 240). In conversations I’ve had / witness in my PLN via Twitter about students and writing online, teachers are saying that the texting and online writing that students do in their spare time is helping them guide better writers because the teachers can bridge the gap between the writing they’re doing at home and the writing they’re doing in school.

Frame 3

Controlling the Volume

Most of the time, when my mother calls me, I let it ring. When I get a text message from my brother, who you saw in the first frame, it makes a different noise than all of my other text messages. I can choose whether or not my AIM (which includes not only AOL instant messenger, but also Google Chat and Facebook Chat) buddies see when I’m idle and not at my computer.

Baron calls this controlling the volume of our social interactions. We increase our access to other people by changing ringtones or creating specific alerts to notify us when people are available to talk.

We pretend we’re not at our computers or ignore phone calls in order to avoid talking to people.

The data she gathered on controlling the volume centers around the multi-tasking abilities of undergraduate college students at American University in the fall of 2004 and spring of 2005. It was a pilot study, and the participants were on the buddy lists of Baron’s students. In the first study, 98% of the 158 participants engaged in multitasking. Focus groups found that one of the main reasons students multitask is due to time constraints. It allows them have conversations with people while writing papers, playing games, etc. Also that IMing isn’t a stand alone activity. Sometimes multitasking is due to boredom-waiting for people to respond.

Are Instant Messages Speech?

In 1997 Baron looked at the literature about email, message boards and computer conferencing and decided that the communications are mixed modal–having aspects of both writing and speech.

David Crystal wrote a book called Language and the Internet, and in his understanding of the literature he found that online interactions is more like written language with spoken tendencies.

Baron did a pilot study with undergrads and recent grads at American University in 2003. Found the same as Crystal did, that while IMing has many elements of speech, it is, in fact, writing. She talks about how the writing is different–because there is no red penned-English teacher looking over their shoulder, and because they are multitasking, the academic typing goes out the window.

Away Messages and Facebook

Blogs, YouTube & Wikipedia

In brief, blogs, Wikipedia and YouTube give something to students that I think many are lacking in the sterile school environment: a sense of audience. When they put their videos or their writings on the internet, even via Facebook and such, they expect people to read it. They often ask me how many views my video blog is getting (even though they’re the first people to see it). This sense of audience builds on historical uses of the first amendment, that is, like the Federalist Papers, letters to the editor, and talk radio shows like Dr. Laura.

What I think they learn, incidentally, is how to establish a purpose and an audience, even if they don’t have a wide readership.

Frame 4

Is the internet destroying language?

Baron looks at offline writing—newspapers, essays and advertisements, whether or not electronic mediated communication follows a specific set of rules that users can violate, and then she suggests ways that the internet may be changing the way we write and speak.

There is a sense of “finished” in the area of writing that is produced. It happens faster than it did before. In the IMing study, the participants suggested that they often multitask when sending IMs because of time constraints. Because there’s something else they need to get done. Thus, the written word is being sent out there faster, and sometimes before people get a chance to decide if what they’re sending is really what they intended to say.

It’s even gotten to the point, and this happened after this book was written, that Google introduced a lab (a feature still in testing) that allows users to “unsend” a message. It’s timed, and really means that there’s a delay before the message is sent, but it exemplifies what Baron is saying here about being finished with our writing so quickly without taking the time to go back and look at it.

Baron also suggests that because of the direction we’re going with the written word everywhere, writing is going to move toward being a tool to record informal speech. We may move toward non-standardized spellings like Middle English. And language will not be held as heavily to identify social status.

As for other effects, Baron suggests that it may push us toward more compounding of words, partially because we take words when we type URLs and smush them all together.

And then, there’s Google auto correct, and spell check.

Because the technologies we’re using are still relatively new, researchers aren’t entirely sure what the long-term effects are going to be. And there still aren’t set conventional rules that can be held to or broken in terms of the internet.


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