Naomi Baron's Always On: Language in an Online and Mobile World is a response to the digital age's communication technologies that are influencing and changing our language, and the ways we communicate with each other. Baron's book's genesis lies in two questions: What are we, as speakers and writers, doing to our language by virtue of new communication technologies, and how, in turn, do our linguistic practices impact the way we think and the way we relate to one another?
Baron goes through the different forms of communicative technology through the internet and mobile world to show us how we're in control of what's happening. She seems to take a sort of humanist approach to this discourse, as she consistently reminds us that the change is in our hands. All the technologies mentioned are always brought back to how people respond and use the technologies. Some of the technologies mentioned are: IMing, Blogs, Facebook, MySpace, Google, Spellcheck, Caller-ID, Blackberry, Texting, etc.
Some of the key terms and ideas that Baron discusses are `volume control', which refers to the technologies both internet and mobile used to control communication by people. She uses the example of how a teenager can block their mother's IM's or how anyone can let a phone call go to voicemail by screening the caller ID to avoid or control their communication `volume'.
Another important term and concept she dives into is the `end of anticipation', which refers to technology such as Facebook beating face-to-face reunions to the punch of asking `how've you been?', because we've already heard. Baron says that people save up stories to share and invested psychological energy in anticipating the next reunion. This fundamental social tradition impacts our daily lives immensely, and more importantly changes our communication with each other.
More importantly, Baron coins the `Whatever theory of language' or `Whateverism', as the new attitude towards language and its usage. In chapter 8, she says that poor writing is not just an issue of devolution, but a quiet revolution in social attitudes toward linguistic consistency. One of her main arguments is that technology isn't at fault for the change in language, the fault lies either in us or the global `whatever' attitude regarding regularity in language. Technology only magnifies the ongoing trends, which predate before the digital age. She explains that language and writing standards have changed because of the combination of the `whatever' attitude and personally expressive, culturally accommodating, and clock-driven language users.
Always `on' means that we are always connected through some medium of technology. Baron explains how this affects us in our everyday lives and how it translates into how we relate to one another. She's warns us about the consequences in her final chapter 10 about being connected or always `on' 24/7, but also offers solutions like controlling `volume' for moderation of technology. This portion of the book was my favorite and most involving because of her suggestions, continuous discourse, and statistics. She truly grabs the reader and shakes them with her unavoidable questions that remove them from the connectivity that clouds their awareness. She asks what kind of people we will become if our friends and family have to compete for our attention from digital media.
I found Baron's book to be pretty refreshing in her stance on communicative technology, and her approach to her argument. She draws upon historical references as well as other authorities on the subject matter and studies. Her writing is easy to read and she seems to have a great sense of fluidity when transitioning from one point to another. I enjoyed reading the book because above all, I felt like the book took a seminar form. It's a book that converses with you while making you feel involved, as opposed to reading a book that talks at you instead and keeps you at an un-involved distance.
She uses cartoons and comics that are both aesthetically pleasing and helps aid her argument. On the negative side, her own research seems to be a bit dated even though she does acknowledge that technology is constantly in flux as is our language. The book is also published in 2008, but I believe she could have involved the most recent studies before publication. Another downside to the book which she mentioned in chapter one, was that her argument really lies in the last three chapters of the book. Other than this, I would recommend this book for anyone interested in learning about communicative technology and how it affects us in our everyday lives.
If the book had been more recent, I wonder what she would've made about people blaming Facebook for ending relationships and how Facebook has transformed relationships between friends and couples in more notably negative ways.