How Are Modern Communication Tools Changing Our Language?

Joel Fristrom



When we launched our communication series earlier this month, we began by talking about how technology has changed the way we communicate. But it’s not just the umbrella terms of tech that’s having an impact on our dialogue—it’s also the specific digital communication tools that are now literally at the tips of everyone’s fingers.

Modern communication tools include everything from your Instant Messenger on your computer and smart phone, to social media forums like tweets and posts, to the ubiquitous options of email and texting. They also include collaboration tools that many distributed workforces are now relying on to exchange information more effectively and improve team productivity.

These tools are not only helping us talk to one another—they’re also changing the very language that we use to do the talking. We’ve touched on some of the diverse ways that digital tools are affecting elements of our communication, from etiquette choices in various media, to shifts in grammar usage depending on whether you are sending a text, tweet, or email.

There are other even more basic ways that our communication tools are making us talk differently, infiltrating new language into our conversations. Let’s explore a few of them:


  • Talking in pictures. Emoticons and Emojis have in many cases replaced actual words we might have once used to express how we feel. These icons picture everything from simple happy faces and hearts, to detailed images that are designed to help us convey—in a theme-related way—practically anything you can think of, from sports to holidays to family life. In addition to the panels of icons that many of our communication tools now come equipped with, actual photos are in a sense replacing some of our language as well, since so many more people are walking around with a camera phone in their pocket and sending out images as updates, rather than spelling things in words to describe what they’re doing.
  • Spillover of tech slang. It’s questionable whether to use slang and jargon, common in texting and IMing, in certain contexts (and ill-advised in business communications). But despite how some frown on the informality that tech tools have brought to our digital conversations, the same type of language is seeping into our everyday verbal communications as well. For example, people are as likely to say “LOL!” out loud in reaction to something funny or sarcastic that someone says as they are to type it as an IM. The key is to avoid using online shorthand terms inappropriately, whether in the real world or digital one.
  • Sentence spacing. A heated debate is currently raging about one of the most basic elements of our written language—spacing between sentences. The brevity afforded by digital communication tools have helped sway many language experts over to a preference for using a single space after a period at the end of a sentence. However, others still cling to what many techies think is an “old school” approach of sentence structure, inserting a double space between each sentence. Language style guides from Chicago to MLA are as divided on the issue as individuals. If it helps you make your decision, keep in mind that the double-space rule was originally born of necessity back when typewriters graced every desk rather than desktop and laptop computers.

This is the tip of the iceberg of how our communication tools are changing how we talk and write—and more shifts will continue to arise as new technologies bring revised ways of getting our points across. While it’s challenging, try to keep up with the metamorphosis of language as best you can—and hang on for the ride!