Saturday, 21 February 2009

A Blog with a Conscience

This blog has often been criticized for ignoring important socio-political issues. So much has happened since my first post: terrorists waged war on Bombay, the United States got its first African-American President, they stopped serving Sunday biryani in our hostel mess – all these events came and went, but stirred not a ripple in The World According to Sroyon. Even the recession only gets an occasional passing mention, and that too in a manner which, according to my critics, trivializes the subject. But not any more. As of today, The World According to Sroyon has become a Blog with a Conscience.

In this post, I will raise two issues of grave concern, issues that have implications for our daily lives and our common future. I call them, Stressing the ‘I’, and The Space at the Start.

There was a recent xkcd about the problem of how to end a parenthetical statement with an emoticon in an IM. Poor Randall is clearly a beginner at the game, else he’d have known that the solution is, of course, to use square brackets.

But there are at least two other problems, at least with my favoured IM client Gtalk, which require the immediate attention of linguists and software developers.

1. Stressing the ‘I’

How do you stress ‘I’ (the first person singular pronoun, not the letter) in an IM? The usual convention, which is to use uppercase letters, does not get us anywhere because the ‘I’ is anyway uppercase. You might think that people who otherwise don’t capitalize the ‘I’ (and commit all manner of other punctuation heresies) in IMs can still use an uppercase I for emphasis. But in practice – and I speak after careful study and empirical analysis – the average reader is so primed to seeing the uppercase I that the attempted emphasis passes unnoticed.

If I want to emphasize acronyms, I usually put them in italics. As in, “Your CGPA is more important than our relationship?” Not that I have ever said that to anyone. But even italicization does not work with the ‘I’ because in Arial, the Gtalk default font, the italicized uppercase I, italicized lowercase L and forward slash all look pretty much the same.
I l /

2. The Space at the Start

It is possible to envisage a number of circumstances where it’s imperative to insert a space at the start of a line. The following (actual) conversation is an example. I was trying to give Darshana directions to my place.

me: __
Darshana: Thought of half a million witty things to say to this, but hafta settle for...heh, what?
me: i was trying to draw you a map. vertical line being eastbound main road, circle being pond, horizontal line being my street. it failed for two reasons
Darshana: Namely?
me: a) i failed to compensate for the rightward shift in the first line caused by my name appearing on the chat window
Darshana: and b) I'm an imbecile.
me: no. b) i did not know that gtalk does not recognise spaces at the beginning of a line
i will now prove to you i am not in fact an imbecile by circumventing these seemingly insurmountable problems
Darshana: *resigns herself*
(several attempts later)
ignore the full stops, and there you have it!
Darshana: *wild applause and wolf whistles*
I ask you: should anyone be reduced to this?

Folks (here I address the linguists and software programmers): set aside the trivial stuff that usually occupies you. Just for once, open your eyes to things more important than discovering Universal Grammar and solving the P=NP problem,* and address some problems that really matter. The world needs you.

* Hat tip to Tommy for giving me that example.


Rahul Saha said...

Your post has led to me wasting a good half hour on the p=NP problem. So :P.

Anonymous said...

sorry, i skipped to the end to post a comment as soon as i read that there is no more sunday biryani? why?

Shrabasti Banerjee said...

lol! try putting them in italics AND bold. that's what I would do. as for the space, hmm..*runs off to google complaint site*

Shrabasti Banerjee said...

dang..doesn't work too well does it? :-S

Tommy said...

We could lobby Google to include Postscript rendering in Gtalk. That way you'd only need a keyboard to type code for a map like that, no scanner or graphics tablet required.

new age scheherazade said...

Some people would have simply written out the directions, you know.

Just saying.

ಕವನ said...

*I* have hit the space at the start problem so often I've started drawing with dots at the beginning of every line.

Shrabasti Banerjee said...

My god :D. Your old posts are a lot of fun. Darshana is too. "b. I'm an imbecile." Hahahha.