First of all, let me be clear: I understand that modern English is an evolving language and that the internet age is perhaps bringing along a new phase in its evolution. Unfortunately, I think that the evolution (in spoken language, at least) is damaging to our ability as individuals to communicate ideas effectively in a verbal manner.
Prior to the advent of email in my life, I conducted most of my day-to-day technical communication in a verbal format. It was a consistent exercise in the ability to think on my feet and exchange ideas in a technical fashion in a verbal manner; the ability to stroll down the hall and communicate with a co-worker on a technical topic was the primary means for most day-to-day exchange of information.
In the past five years, however, this face-to-face exchange of ideas has quickly gone downhill, replaced by the use of email. Now, rather than getting out of my chair and strolling down the hall to ask a coworker about his coding, I often use email, as it avoids the effort of leaving my desk and breaking my train of thought. This is an advantage, but it brings a significant drawback.
It's clear in recent verbal communication on technical topics that I'm not up to my old snuff in thinking on my feet and exchanging technical ideas, and it's clear that I am not alone on this. People are simply losing the ability to communicate in a clear and effective manner and the cause seems to be the efficiency of email.
Cellular phones and instant messaging are both contributing to the problem, I believe. Both make instantaneous communication much easier, but the pressing needs of this communication forum is resulting in the breakdown of cohesive and well thought out sentences and discussion elements.
When was the last time you had an ICQ discussion that was conducted in complete sentences or even in complete thoughts? You might think that it was quite recently, but I encourage you to take a second and read through your logs. I was appalled at my logs; I couldn't believe that so much thought was missing; that so much logical structure was absent.
Are we losing the ability to communicate effectively because of the recent increases in speed and convenience of communication? I really believe so, and here's why.
The biggest reason is that these forums are so intrusive and so speedy that we often don't have the time to articulate a clear and well-thought response to a query or a comment. We communicate just enough to get the message across or make the problem go away rather than really answering the question.
Another reason is cut-and-paste. Why do I need to logically explain my code when I can cut and paste it into my email and maybe add in a comment or two? I don't have to rationalize it or explain it anymore, I just have to dish it off onto someone else. The same goes for a technical solution to any problem; it's often easier to spew a stock answer and send that off than it is to investigate the problem and articulate a specific solution.
A final reason is the reduction in the use of the spoken word in the technical community overall. I simply don't speak as much as I used to. It's not something that's noticeable on a daily basis, but it really adds up and when you reflect on it, it becomes much clearer. I spend hours coding in silence in front of my box, just coding, responding to emails, making web postings, answering ICQ messages, and so forth. Before the invasiveness of the internet, I spoke more directly to other people; I didn't have these technologies to replace it.
What can we do to fix these problems? I don't know if there is a real solution, other than putting more care into articulating everything one writes and says. The convenience of the internet and communications technologies makes it so easy to slack off in terms of putting effort into effective technical communication that we can't help but unconsciously become prey to it. Perhaps the only way to combat it is to be aware of the problem and simply put more effort into articulation and communication of ideas.