When I talk about language, I do not mean the culture behind a language. Nor do I mean individual jargon words. I mean the way words are strung together – the string of words people speak and the string of words they hear.
What people say and what they hear have always been slightly different but now the gap between what is spoken and what is heard has, in many cases, become a yawning gulf. We consistently talk at cross-purposes. Understanding each other is becoming a major complication in a time when the complexity of modern life demands that we do understand each other and are able to work together.
The days when language was predominantly concerned with national identity or religious identity are gone. Now there is a polyglot of tongues all competing for a place in society, ebbing and flowing between themselves.
As I was growing up, language was pretty well defined – not just the over-riding languages of national identity (English, French, German and so on) but the more subtle range of languages within those national languages – the languages of organised religion, politics, law and order with its legislation and formal legal system, the languages of economics – business, commerce and finance, the languages of science and art, academia and health, not forgetting the language of conflict and war. This was the post Second World War period when we needed to respect languages and work together as the country got back on its feet.
In the sixties, this began to change and other more social languages were added to the mix.
So now we have the languages of equality and human rights, ethnicity, gender, sexuality, generations, aging and retirement, health and well-being and, with the growth of the corporation, corporate language and the language of regulation and dispute – and so on.
And we have increasingly adopted the languages of digital technology, the social media and gaming – languages that are changing and developing at a far, far greater rate than any of the other languages. Moreover, we express ourselves more and more through this digital technology.
Digitalising means converting communication into numbers and code. Putting numbers to ideas and objects implies a precision that may or may not be there in reality. We can now ‘speak’ the above languages in digital form. The power of digital technology gives each language a life and power of its own. The danger is that the increasing specialisation that results divides us rather than unites us.
We need technology but we need it to feed humanity not humanity to feed technology. The problem is how do we maintain stable human relationships in a society which has put its trust almost totally into digital technology. a medium in which the speed of change makes it inherently unstable?
This is the crux of my argument: all the ‘languages’ mentioned above will continue to evolve in the developing face of technology. However, at the same time, we need to continue to develop and respect the non-digital language of face-to-face relationships. Because this is the core language of humanity – the basic unit of human interaction.
Although it can be read as a single post, the above is part of a series that illustrates one of the author’s current interests, taken from a locker full of interests, at a major waypoint in his life. The series sets out as a comment on retirement before focusing around language. He wonders whether he himself has the language to cope as he steps out into the wider world popularly known as ‘retirement’ – an irreversible step into a world that he has previously only glimpsed out of the corner of his eye, a world in which he thinks the word ‘retirement’ to be a misnomer. He has used the medium of the blog to paint the picture. The irony is that, whereas writing about it does allow him to reflect, sitting alone at a computer actually distances him from the face-to-face interaction he is describing.