Is brevity knowledge, concise e-commerce messaging or Newspeak?


With the introduction of the modern computer in the 1950s through to modern-day hand-held devices, technology has empowered us to communicate and process facts faster. It has also forced us to assimilate data and phenomena quicker.

But as a result of that faster data and message transmission, we are now communicating in a manner which not only drops punctuation and grammar; it also “re-spells” words into shorter forms.

Although communications have been getting briefer as people juggle busy lives – like the ubiquitous one-liner emails that no longer include a “hi” salutation –  the advent of mobile phone text messaging with restrictions of 160 characters has borne witness to people changing the way they express themselves.

So the word “you” has been replaced with “U” and slang forms like “l8r” replaced “later”.

Even with unlimited text bundles, people are sticking with the habit of shorter communications. That’s because social media such as Twitter are further restricting expression, to 140 characters or less.

If social author and broadcaster George Orwell was alive today, he would no doubt remark with horror “I told you so”. In his futuristic novel “1984” he predicted three superpowers would carve up the world when he wrote his book in 1948, and for decades he was right. The United States alliance was pitched against the Soviet Union and separately mainland China.

In his novel, Orwell also predicted “Newspeak”, a fictional controlled language created by the totalitarian state as a tool to limit freedom of thought, by capping self-expression. Why choose five different words to mean something, when one will do? That was the cold logic.

Today, no one realistically hopes that Orwell’s prediction rings true. But if people are expressing themselves differently and perhaps even thinking differently, it is imperative for commerce to plug into and engage with consumers in a way they understand. If commerce and public officials cannot relate to people in their own lingo, they will increasingly carry no clout. But the art is in balancing this new engagement with the ability to maintain a consistent, serious and authoritative – not authoritarian – tone of voice.

There are opportunities to harvest in this new world order and win business.

In keeping with the shorter format of our times, this blog is shorter too.

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