Digital Revolution: Open Sources and the Impact on the English Language

Thakurdas Jana, Bhatter College, Dantan

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In this “Post-digital Age”, sweeping changes have been brought about with the adoption and proliferation of computers and communication technologies throughout the globe. As a result, the open sharing and access to the large amount of internet data and diverse information is gradually becoming an interesting phenomenon. Various sources of information have been democratized in this post-digital world. The invention and massive use of computers and internet, the propagation of communication technology and social media are effectively influencing the masses in every strata of society. Its impact can be seen everywhere whether in the field of teaching, learning, research, banking, marketing or space technology and so on. One aspect of its impact can be seen in the permutation and modification of the ‘global’ language English. This paper aims to focus on the dual concerns: how the digital storm has created a vast open source for accessing the flood of information; and on the other hand, how these new technologies are playing as a driving force behind the linguistic changes (both semantic and syntactical), specifically, of the English language.

[Keywords: Post-digital Age, open sources, communication technology, information technology, social media, digitalization.]

Akin to every revolution, the digital revolution in the 20th century and the 21st century ushers incredible impact on society. Socio-political and cultural changes have emerged and effected every stratum of the global community. In this “Post-digital Age”, sweeping changes have been brought about with the adoption and proliferation of digital computers and communication technologies throughout the globe. As a result, the open sharing and access to the large amount of internet data and diverse information is gradually becoming an interesting phenomenon. Various sources of information have been democratized in this post digital world. The invention and massive use of computers and internet, the propagation of communication technology and social media are effectively influencing the masses in every strata of society. Its impact can be seen everywhere whether in the field of teaching, learning, research, banking, marketing or space technology and so on.

If we look at the mantra of the contemporary society, we can see that this is an age of information high-technology. But the way of sharing information and knowledge was not the same over the years .It has undergone a tremendous process of evolvement- starting from drawing and scribes to mass broadcasting, to ever-increasing amounts of data and its sharing, and digital communication. Let us have a brief overview of its historical development over the ages.

During 1500 B.C cave paintings were the medium to capture and depict hunting knowledge of human beings. Then Hieroglyphics emerged, especially in the Greek, as a sophisticated way to document and share knowledge during 3400 B.C. Around 300 B.C pamphlets were used to record knowledge. In 77 A.D encyclopedia was first written by Roman author Pliny, setting the model for organizing and archiving knowledge of the world. Later, during the late 12th century monks transcribed books which were known as “Scriptorium” to document and share religious ideas among their disciples. But these cryptic ways of documentation through manuscript writing had taken a drastic change in the mid 15th century as an offshoot of the Renaissance. The invention of Printing Press by Johannes Gutenberg in the year 1440 A.D made a true and effective revolution in the printing world and in the system of sharing information and knowledge through large amount of printed books. Commenting on such a transformation in the information sharing system, author Phillip B. Meggs also writes in his book A History of Graphic Design: “…the fifteenth-century shift from hand lettered manuscript books to Gutenberg’s movable type.”

In the immediate aftermath of the Renaissance, towards the early 17th century, the necessity of wide-scale propagation and proliferation of ‘humanistic knowledge’ resulted in the advent of news papers as a popular source for sharing information. In 1600s Newspapers began to inform large group of people of current events and information. Though the printing press was invented and news paper became popular, the lack of sufficient paper for printing proved as a hindrance for mass communication system. This dichotomy gets resolved only after the Industrial Revolution which produces a large amount of paper and facilitates information sharing on wide scale phenomena. In the 18th century, during the Industrial Revolution, the emergence of Public Libraries enhanced the sharing of knowledge among the general public. Yet the freedom of communication and information, a Human right (Art.19 of Universal Declaration of Human Rights) was not achieved fully till the advent of communication technology and digitalization.

But a monolithic concept of the Industrial Revolution has now become a mythical history as a result of the subsequent emergence of its other two phases- the Second Industrial Revolution and the Third Industrial Revolution. As a result of the shifting dynamics of socio-economic power, when the First Industrial Revolution shifted to the Second one, the flourishing of science and technology culminates in the Jet Age, Atomic Age and Space Age produces a productive soil for sharing information even more. But Third Industrial Revolution, popularly known as Digital revolution, through the invention of streaming audio, streaming video, cell phone, digital cable, computer, e-mail, digital photography, social media, impelled the Democratization of Information. It has permuted the world’s functions and communication dramatically. Talking about the significance and relevance of information sharing system in the contemporary age, Frances Cairn-cross in his book The Death of Distance: How the Communications Revolution Is Changing Our Lives divides the historical evolvement into three distinct phases:

Think of [the information revolution] as one of the three great revolutions in the cost of transport. The nineteenth century, dominated by the steamship and the railway, saw a transformation in the cost of transporting goods; the twenty- eth century, with first the motor car and then the aeroplane, in the cost of transporting people. The new century will be subjugated by the transformation in the cost of transporting knowledge and ideas. (Torr 14)

In this Information Age, effective digital technologies have permitted massive growth in information sharing system. The use of technologies facilitates human beings to triumph over the barriers and confinements inherent in their capacities to bring in information. The physical space now has been revolutionized to cyberspace. And the advent of Internet is a revolutionary achievement of man to achieve this kind of massive change. In this regard, Henry Blodget’s commentery would substantiate the point further:

We view the growth of the Internet and e-commerce as a global megatrend along the lines of the printing press, the telephone, the computer, and electricity. (PR Newswire)

Thus, the internet has now become world’s most influential device for the sharing knowledge. One of its facilities is electronic mail (e-mail), while the remainder consists of scientific documents, data bibliographies, electronics journals and digital archives. Newer addition includes electronic versions of news papers, electronic library, the World Wide Web. In contrast to the relatively slow, bureaucratically monitored systems of documenting and circulating information, this digital technology permit a non-hierarchical flow of information in a very free-flowing way. The World Wide Web is easily the most powerful source of knowledge in the world today with Wikipedia available in hundreds of language including popular Indian languages and other websites aimed at academic readership. Lowering the costs of distribution also allows more readers to reach across existing cultural, geographical, and multi and inter-disciplinary boundaries. It allows information to get passed over previously unreachable communities. It enables new communities to form, based on existing interests, and it helps create new interests around which communities can form itself further.

Over the years written texts were the only popular medium of sharing information, but in the contemporary world, the incorporation of the audio-visual media into information sharing system has seen the use of digital broadcasting.   You tube is a popular video site having millions of videos related to teaching learning. Besides You Tube, there are many academic websites providing hundreds of short videos on diverse topics. Apart from World Wide Web, there are special devices like e-readers specialized in providing books and publications to people.

User’s access to such ‘open sources’ has thus left a tremendous impact in the field of teaching-learning process. Exposure to such a wide variety of sources would meet diverse learning needs, curiosity and interest, provoke thinking, and support creativity among the learners. Being essentially a knowledge based process, teaching learning has also been significantly influenced by the digital revolution. From purely oral culture (like our Gurukuls) schools have adapted text very well. The digital revolution has the capacity to allow knowledge construction by adopting the modes of text, audio and video. As mentioned by Sunil Shah in his article “Digital English Language Laboratory Project: A Critical Evaluation”, Stephen Krashen’s commentary on it would substantiate the point:

According to Krashen (2007), using computers will encourage students to wander through the Internet and read what interests them. Krashen concludes that it will result in higher levels of literacy.

Hence the potentiality of open-sources for revolutionizing teaching learning has been explored by the introduction of ICT (Information Communication Technology). Over the last decade there has been large exploration on the usage of ICT in teaching and also in teacher-training. Educationists acknowledge that it is also the most important element of the education system. Hence the use of ICT in schooling has been an effective medium in producing potential teachers for the country.

These digital sources in the age of computer and Internet have become an influential tool in the language teaching process too. In relation with ICT and language learning, a common term used is CALL (Computer-Aided Language Learning). At the time of its inception in the 1960s, drill exercises were generally practiced but over the years tasks of CALL has been more communicative. CALL exercises mean usually the tasks where the computer is playing the role of tutor to the pupils providing responses either by clicking, filling in a word or saying something into a microphone. Henry Dudeney in his book The Internet and the Language Classroom mentions some of the methods of incorporating ICT in language teaching. These are “blogs, wikis, chats, and pen-pals”. Besides using computers in the classroom, interactive whiteboards, sometimes called smart boards are also utilized. Use of online dictionaries and glossaries is also very helpful.

One aspect of the impact of “Digital Revolution” can be seen in the permutation and modification of the ‘global’ language, more specifically of the English language which is a popular medium of computer, internet, and communication technology. Like the democratization of information and knowledge, globalization of English language is also an important aspect of this present digitalized phenomenon. To the famous linguist of present time, David Crystal, “English in some form is spoken three times more by the non-native speakers as compared to the native speakers”. And the force behind this globalization of English language is the Digital Revolution consisting of the advent of internet and social media.

With the advent of the social media websites like Facebook, Twitter etc, the transformation of the language from a sophisticated style to more colloquial one is clearly discernable. Social Medias have prompted the evolution of an ‘abbreviated English language emerged in chat groups in the virtual world’. One of the leading linguists of the present century David Crystal’s book “Txtng: the Gr8 Db8” (2008) is an in-depth manifesto of such study. The book’s title itself is an example of such linguistic defamiliarization which is widespread in the digital social mediatic communication system. Use of emoticons like 🙂 , 😉 and acronyms like LOL(laughing out loud) and others have provided a new dimension to the language. A well-known social media, Facebook, has also offered new meanings to words such as “status”, “wall”, and “profile”. Mark McCrindle and Emily Wolfinger in their book entitled Word Up:A Lexicon Guide to Communication in the 21st Century interestingly envisage the conversation of Romeo and Juliet from a new social-media chat language:

How would Romeo woo Juliet today?

Romeo: r u awake? want 2 chat?

Juliet: o rom. where4 art thou?

Romeo: outside yr window.

Juliet: stalker!

Romeo: had 2 come. feeling jiggy.

Juliet: b careful. my family h8 u.

Romeo: tell me about it. what about u?

Juliet: ‘m up for marriage f u r. is tht a bit fwd?

Romeo: no. yes. no. oh, dsnt mat-r, 2moro @ 9?

Juliet: luv u xxxx

Romeo: cu then xxxx

Like all revolutions, Digital Revolution also prospects the transformation of the society. However, the touchstone of Digital Revolution is felt by the present era. It is making uneven progress in several respects. The importance of Digital is ever-increasing and more and more old media are being digitalized in terms of transmission and usage. Now we can travel through the wilderness without a compass or through the forest without a forester.

Works Cited:

Balkin, Jack. “Digital Speech and Democratic Culture: A Theory of Freedom of Expression for the Information Society” New York University Law Review, Vol.79, (2004)

Barr, Marleen S. “Science Fiction and the Cultural Logic of Early Post Postmodernism.” Socialism and Democracy 20, no. 3 (2006)

Boyle, James. “A Politics of Intellectual Property: Environmentalism for the Net?” 47Duke Law Journal

Cairncross, Frances. “The Death of Distance: How the Communications Revolution Is Changing our Lives”, London Harvard Business Press (1997)

Crystal, David. “Language and the Internet” Cambridge University Press, (2006)

Crystal, David. Txtng: The Gr8 Db8” OUP Oxford, (2008).

Dudeney, Gavin. “The Internet and the Language Classroom: A Practical Guide for Teachers” Cambridge    University Press, (2007)

Hoven, Jeroen van den.Ethics and Information Technology (1999) Article

Karshen, D. Stephen. “Acquiring A Second Language” Article (2007)

McCrindle , Mark and Wolfinger , Emily. Word Up:A Lexicon Guide to Communication in the 21st Century (2011)

Mynard, Jo. “A blog as a Tool for reflection for English Language Learners” Asia EFL Journal, November, 2007.

Thakurdas Jana teaches in the Department of English, Bhatter College, Dantan.

The Golden Line: Volume 1, Number 2, 2015

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