Here’s a thing I wrote for the Jewish Quarterly.
Congratulate me. I’ve just written a whole sheet of A4 by pen. After years of computercentricity it felt weird, foreign, as unwelcome a throwback to the 1980s as news that The Tweets have reformed so we can hear the “Birdie Song” live again (ah, “The Tweets”. Now there’s a name that finally has meaning in this social network age). As I heaved the pen clumsily across the paper, sweat pouring from my brow, Repetitive Strain Injury gathering in my freaked-out forearm, I felt like a man trying to plough a field with a… well, with a pen. And after all that intense manual labour, the words were about as legible as if they’d been written by a three year old. With his foot. Where were the clear curves and confident uprights of Times New Roman or Arial, the font which, as every Disney fan knows, gained its elegant look by sacrificing its voice to Ursula the Sea Witch? I couldn’t work out how to cut-and-paste, couldn’t make any of the words bold – writing with a pen and paper is rubbish.
Give me a couple more months and I’ll say the same about books. Jews may be known as the People of the Book but as far as I’m concerned we can already be rechristened (sorry, bad choice of words) the People of the Kindle. I’ve only had my e-reader a few weeks and I’m already cured of my nostalgia for the smell of a new book, the look of its cover, the physicality of turning the pages (which now seems almost as tough a form of manual labour as using a pen). I like that no-one on the tube can tell I’m reading Katie Price’s “Being Jordan” for the 4th time (I hate missing the nuances and subtext). And why tell people you’re halfway through a book when you can tell them you’re 46% of the way through (Kindle virgins – there’s a little bar at the bottom of the screen that offers you this detail). I confidently predict that within five years even Torah scrolls will be in electronic tablet form and therefore so much easier to lift.
My writing style also betrays how I’ve evolved into a man who spends his whole life tapping at a computer (homo tapiens? Presuming you rhyme “sap-“ with “tap”). Too much texting and social networking have eliminated pronouns from the start of my sentences, and as for the verbs “to be” and “to have”, forget it. Fairly confident that irritates lots of people. Seen them banging on about it loads. Then there’s the informality of my email sign-offs. It’s always “best” or – heaven help me – “bestest”, from “Dave x” or “Dx”, even – and what a terrible slip of the keyboard that “x” was – when writing to the Chief Rabbi.
At least my writings aren’t littered with LOL’s and OMG’s (or, for the orthodox Jew, OMG-d’s). I’m over 40 so it would contravene the 1995 Act Your Age Act, but I can see the appeal. LOLs and smiley faces don’t half help clarify what you’re thinking – Kafka would be so much more understandable if “Metamorphosis” had begun “One day Gregor Samsa woke up to find he’d been turned into a huge beetle LOL”. Still I’m unable to resist the asterisk. Once confined to walk-on roles for footnotes and the occasional expletive, the asterisk has clearly got a new agent. It’s now constantly in work on the internet: to stress a word you *really* want to pick out or to express the feelings of the writer about his own sentence *wonders if he needs to give an example*.
I’ve got to the stage when it’s a struggle not to use asterisks and other internetisms when writing an article like this. The other day I even used *facepalm* in conversation (it’s internet for finding something so stupid you want to slap your forehead with your hand; see also *facedesk*). I was talking to an aunt with dementia at the time so the expression was never going to fly. What am I like *facepalm*?! But that’s homo tapiens for you. It may frustrate the peddants (spell it with two d’s, it really annoys them) but it’s surely only a matter of time before asterisks and LOL-style acronyms (Lolcronyms?) enter formal written text and our prayer books are full of “Blessed are you, OMG, who has created the fruit of the vine smiley face”.
Dx *hits send**takes rest of the day off*