13 Ways Technology Has Changed Modern Language

Thursday, September 53 min read

On both a micro and macro scale, texting, Google searches, and social media have all revolutionized the way we talk and share ideas with one another. The advent of digital technology didn’t just introduce us to new acronyms or promote the spread of slang terms. It’s also shaped the rules of communication, and forced us to adopt new concepts in language.

Here are 13 ways technology has changed the way we speak over the last 20 years.

1. Email Etiquette

As email has taken over as the dominant form of communication for companies, families, and friends, we’ve had to define proper email etiquette. A few guidelines for the work environment: Keep language professional. Just because it's digital, doesn't mean you need to include emoji and slang in your missives. At the same time, tone is often hard to read, so be clear and direct. There's no need for "To Whom It May Concern," but if you know the recipient, feel free to use their name. But the most important rule in email etiquette? Think twice before hitting "reply all."

2. Emoticons and Emoji

Original computer communicators may have used shortcuts such as LOL or the smiley face :), but now we have emoji built into our smartphone keyboards. These days, plenty of people consistently use these tiny pictures to add description and feelings to their messages. They can help with tone and intent in personal relationships, but they're probably not appropriate for super professional communications.

3. New verbs

"Verbing," a practice that has been around for centuries, has sped up and become more common in the past few decades. We now "Google" new information, "download" apps, "bookmark" webpages, and "code" new programs into existence. Instead of creating new verbs to describe what technology does, often we simply turn to the accompanying noun and refine it to fit our purposes.

4. Shorter Words

Texting used to be a chore (remember the T9 days?), but even though smartphones now allow people to write more clearly and type faster, people still prefer to shrink their words down. When you really have to go, why write "gotta go" when you could shoot out "g2g"?

5. Content Warnings

The internet is a wild place where you can find anything you want in just a few clicks of the mouse. But not everything on the internet should be on clear display for all to see. Some images, articles, and websites now post content warnings, and it’s common to see them as CW (content warning), TW (trigger warning), or NSFW (not safe for work).


You might get away with accidentally hitting the caps lock key once, but you should shy away from using ALL CAPS, ALL OF THE TIME. Today, using all caps signifies shouting and is considered impolite or a sign of enthusiasm, depending on the context.

7. Ghosting

Silence speaks volumes. It’s easier to avoid a difficult breakup or argument by simply ignoring or blocking a phone number. Instead of dealing with a public breakup, people can disappear into the digital ether. This form of digital disappearance is called "ghosting."

8. Lack of Punctuation

In addition to those acronyms and "text speak," many are expediting digital communication by dropping punctuation altogether. Using formal punctuation in casual messaging can seem downright rude, and those who end their text messages with periods may be interpreted as being angry. Remember, these rules of digital messaging don't always apply to the professional world. Keep your periods when talking to your boss.

9. Repurposing Old Words

The word "troll" originally applied to mythical creatures from Norway, and the word "virtual" was once a fixture in sci-fi, but they’re used for different reasons today. "Wireless technology" used to mean a radio, but now almost all of your digital devices — phone, printer, mouse, headphones, keyboards — are wireless.

10. Writing How We Speak

Published writing used to be a serious academic endeavor, but the internet makes it easier to share information. Nowadays, people share information on blogs and online outlets written in a style closer to casual conversation. Even keeping in touch via long letters has been replaced with GIFs and memes.

11. Tweeting Isn’t Just for Birds

When Twitter became a social media mainstay in 2006, some said it would promote efficiency. Many Twitter arguments later, we’re still debating whether or not the social media platform is ruining our ability to write, or simply evolving it.

12. How We Read

Instead of paper books, magazines, and newspapers, we're reading on screens — tablets, computers and our phones. While some lament the loss of a physical library, digital reading allows readers to sync between devices and carry their library on the go.

13. Internet Linguists

Linguists are people who study the use and structure of languages. There are now internet linguists, and though someone was bound to study these modern language developments, this is a job that wouldn’t have been possible without the changes brought about by technology.

Photo credit: Markus Winkler/ Unsplash

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