If you’re inclined to be depressed about the course of civilization, there’s no shortage of things out there to focus on, global warming, crazy people buying guns and blasting away at whatever annoys them, reality TV. (I’ve admittedly never watched reality TV, but from what I’ve heard they live in a different reality than I do.) But I don’t know whether you’ve ever considered the exclamation point.
When I was young, during the Taft administration, you never saw much of exclamation points. English teachers and writers shunned them as a crutch for weak writing. Using an exclamation point was kind of like needing crutches because you’d gotten so lazy the muscles in your legs atrophied and couldn’t carry you anymore. There wasn’t e-mail back then, but you didn’t see them much in letters. Maybe you’d occasionally see a sentence like THE HOUSE BURNED DOWN! Although people were likely to be able to tell you were excited by the words without the capitals and exclamation points. Anyway, if the house burned down you’d probably call. We did have phones (OK. It was actually closer to the Eisenhower than Taft administration.)
Then at some point in the evolution of e-mails, they started showing up. Young(ish) women signing off with ‘Have a nice day!’, or ‘thanks!’ seemed to be in the vanguard. You could almost see that. The kind of people who were bouncing around, grinning, and saying ‘have a nice day’ in person had discovered a weapon to attack with their bubbly personalities at a greater distance. Like ships that can shoot over the horizon. But then it started growing like Virginia creeper until I was seeing them in the e-mails of cranky old men (my peers). Guys whose voices hadn’t inflected for thirty years started ending their e-mails with ‘Thanks!’. It made me wonder whether they’d only been posing as cranky old men all those years. (Cranky old men actually start fairly young). Maybe there’s a happy sixteen year old girl trapped inside, dying to smile and say ‘have a nice day!’ to everyone she meets. If that isn’t the eleventh circle of hell I don’t know what is. (Or maybe the halfth circle, if that’s a word. I can’t remember whether it gets worse when the numbers go up or down.)
And then of course, there was the inevitable escalation. ‘Thanks!!’. ‘Have a nice day!!’ THE HOUSE BURNED DOWN!!!!! Until it seems that the exclamation point has replaced the period and multiplied like rabbits! Where does it all end??? (It also bled into other punctuation, although the comma seems to have been spared!) Someone has to take a stand!!!!! But I’m not sure how to do it!! Maybe it’s possible to have computer companies remove the ! keys from the machines!? (Or is ?! more appropriate!?)
Anyway! I’m not one to over-react!! But I intend to lead a one man fight against this trend!!! From now on, I vow never to use an exclamation point, no matter what the provocation!!!! If enough people join me maybe we can reverse the trend!!!!! All I know is we have to try!!!!!!
Have a nice day!!!!!!!!!!
My daughter got me reading Isaac Asimov. I’ve never read much science fiction but they are pretty good. One thing about them has struck me though. If Asimov is representative of science fiction in the fifties through the seventies the view of the future from that period is very interesting.
The people in those stories are pretty much the same as they are now, and probably as they were when the stories were written. Same motivations, emotions, pathologies, etc. So he gets it right that the major change to mankind is in the technology. He (and I suspect other science fiction writers) just got the technology advances all wrong.
When you read those stories, most of the futuristic machinery is in transportation and weapons. Space travel, flying cars, phasors, etc. While cars are better built and more efficient and we have been to the moon, transportation really hasn’t advanced all that much. And guns? Well guns appear to do pretty much what they’ve always done. Just more of it. What’s really changed is personal communications, and I think that they missed that just about completely.
Sure. Star Trek had their communications devices, but what were they? Walkie Talkies. The Internet, cell phones, personal computers. I don’t think you’ll find that ever shrinking communications technology in those stories. Even the name computer is interesting. Some people still do use them to compute, but the vast majority of people use them to communicate. We should change the name to communicators.
So what does that mean? Probably depends on whether you’re an optimist or pessimist. It could mean that we are more concerned with communicating and connecting than those authors realized. I’ll let you look at the quality of the content on the Internet and television and decide that for yourselves. An alternative is that those people saw society as something going places, rather than a lot of talk.
I don’t know the answer but it’s an interesting question. Maybe we can learn more about what those people thought of us as a people than we can about how the future would look.
From June 6 to June 10 free copies of my book Trojan Hearse: A Light Look at the Dark Side of the War on Terror will be available on Amazon.com. You can get to them from the link on my website, CharlesVella.com, or directly through my Amazon website, Amazon.com/author/CharlesVella. As always, all of my novels are available for free to Amazon prime members through the Amazon Lending Library. Please take a look and let me know what you think by writing a review on Amazon.