(This is a rewrite of a post I did several years ago. I had to update it because I hear more and more people doing this and it’s maddening.)

Somewhere along the line, while we weren’t looking, they changed language.

We see the obvious culprits, the people who have ripped apart words and sentences and maybe even basic communication itself by doing nothing but text or post on social media all day long (because they would rather use their phone for any other purpose than to actually talk to someone), completely forgetting about capitalization or basic punctuation, reducing everything to an LOL, a BRB, a “U” instead of you, a “K” instead of OK (because it’s too much trouble to type those extra letters), tortured abbreviations, and maybe a 🙂 . We’ve seen the word “the” taken away from us. Suddenly everyone is saying “prom” instead of “the prom” and “hospital” instead of “going to the hospital,” like we’ve all suddenly become British. We’re “adulting” and “journaling” now. “Efforting” is acceptable. “Dude” not only refers to a man or a woman but it’s also a general term of disbelief or wonder, a whole sentence in one word (by the way, don’t call women “dude”). And “I can’t even” is considered witty and clever, mostly by people who regularly take those quizzes at BuzzFeed that tell you which Harry Potter character you are based on your favorite salad toppings.

The most bizarre language habit of all? Using the word “so” to start a sentence. It can be fine if used correctly, but not when you’re simply answering someone’s question.

Some quick examples:

Interviewer: “Where were you born?”

Man: “So I was born in New Jersey…”

Interviewer: “Tell us about your new app.”

Woman: “So what this app does is…”

Interviewer: “Do you like pumpkin pie?”

Man: “So the first time I had pumpkin pie…”

Was there anyone who was the subject of an interview before 2005 who answered questions like this? No. When people were asked “What do you do for a living?” the answer would have been “I’m a cook and I work at this great restaurant…,” not “So I’m a cook and I work at this great restaurant…” It’s really the weirdest thing. It’s happening all the time now. You might not even hear it at first but once you do, it becomes very noticeable. It’s a verbal tic, a speaking crutch that many tech and business people have adopted, most in their 20s and 30s (I first noticed it in a mainstream way during an interview with Mark Zuckerberg years ago) but increasingly older people are using it too (and older people should know better). I hear politicians using it. News anchors use it. I’ve seen many Jeopardy! contestants use it during the segment where Alex Trebek talks to them and for the rest of the game I’m rooting against them.

Would you say “so” at the start of an answer if you were writing it down instead of saying it aloud?

Maybe it’s not even a verbal tic. Maybe it’s the way many people think they’re supposed to speak now. I’d like to think that we’ve moved on from saying “um” at the start of a sentence, that replacing “um” with an actual word is a good sign, but this is a giant leap backward for mankind. It’s like putting walnuts in brownies. It makes no sense.

Communication is weird now. If we’re not starting sentences with the word “so,” we’re keeping our phones next to us while we eat dinner, getting irritated if people use periods when they text, thinking that leaving a voicemail is suddenly the worst thing we could do to a person, or we have the opinion that people are wasting our time when they say “thank you” (which is a cruddy, deranged point of view). People think these changes are a sign of “progress,” and we should all change with the times. Language evolves, after all, and if more and more people use words in a certain way, the more it gets cemented in the culture (like, consider the word “like”). If technology makes us change the way we interact with people, then so be it. The years go by and it all becomes the norm, and you look like you’re not only out of touch but actually wrong. The train has left Progress Station and you should be on board if you don’t want to get left behind.

If this is progress then I’m getting off at the next stop.


Earth vs. Five Things About Media and Technology Right Now

(I don’t know why I started to give these posts classic sci-fi/monster movie titles, but sometimes things just happen. You can find earlier entries on this page.)

1. The news is exhausting now, and I’m not sure the media understands this. All these BREAKING NEWS alerts, all the talking heads, all the analysis of tweets and trending topics. Most people aren’t on Twitter 24/7, and someone needs to tell Brian Stelter that the only people who watch Reliable Sources every Sunday morning are other journalists. People have normal lives and watch the media they want when they want.

2. On a related note, maybe more people would pay attention if everything wasn’t labeled BREAKING NEWS. It distorts everything, and the onslaught of information is utterly exhausting.

Here’s a tip: it’s not “breaking” if it happened seven hours earlier.

3. For the last time, I beg you, it’s “whoa,” not “woah.” No matter what high school kids think.

4. My favorite app? Still pen and paper.

5. The teaser poster for the new Bond movie is out.


I thought that font looked familiar.


Maybe in the end credits of No Time To Die, instead of saying “James Bond Will Return” it will say “James Bond…Soon Will Be Making Another Run.”

From the Dead Letter Office

We interrupt you regular web-surfing for this breaking news: I’m ending The Letter.

You’re probably thinking, again? Yes, again! This will stick though. I didn’t get enough people to renew their subscriptions to make it worthwhile to continue it. I’ll be sending out one last letter around the holidays. Thanks to everyone for subscribing!

What’s next? I’m working on another damn thing you have to subscribe to. Actually, I might just call it Another Damn Thing You Have To Subscribe To. Not sure exactly what it’s going to be yet, except it will be online and you’ll hear about it here first.

Have a great weekend.

Five Years Later…

I just realized last month marked five years since I wrote my goodbye to social media.

I’m happy to report that unlike most people who quit social media and write rants about what social media is doing to us or essays on how distracted we all are by the web (though apparently not enough to stop tweeting), I haven’t gone back to Facebook or Twitter.

It hasn’t been easy, and I can’t say I haven’t had my cursor hovering above the Twitter “join” button several times over the years. If you’re a writer or involved in media or technology, it’s hard to not be on social media in 2019. It’s not only where news breaks and where all the links are, it’s also where everyone is. No one just “visits” social media now, it’s where they live.

But I’ve forced myself to stay off Twitter and Facebook. It probably helps that I consider myself a writer and not a journalist (you can absolutely be both but there’s a difference, at least when it comes to your day to day work), so I don’t have to know the news right now or reply to what someone said on Twitter immediately and I don’t need to give my “hot take” on the topic of the day. I get by just fine thank you using the web the same way I did 10 or 20 years ago: I actually visit sites that I have bookmarked, I use an RSS reader, I use email, and I subscribe to several newsletters (not to mention I still use my phone to make actual phone calls, read print newspapers, watch TV news, and I still send out handwritten letters). We did this for a hundred years and somehow – somehow – we survived.

As I’ve told people many times, everything you do on social media you could still do even if all social media vanished tomorrow: keep in touch with family and friends, get the latest news, display pictures of your dog and/or cat, and see that latest wacky vial video. It might just take an extra click or two.

Whenever I’m tempted to rejoin social media, I remember the time would be better spent actually writing something. I think to myself, would Andy Rooney be on Twitter or Facebook? Of course not. Would Nora Ephron or Ray Bradbury? No way (in fact, social media was around when they were still with us and they weren’t on it). How about Charles Schulz or E.B. White or Jean Kerr or Erma Bombeck? Would Raymond Chandler or Peg Bracken or Oscar Wilde be retweeting and Liking posts and firing off snarky one-liners on social media, deleting and editing and rewriting until it was exactly right? OK, maybe Wilde, but most of my favorite writers weren’t on it or wouldn’t be on it.

How about Don Draper or Ward Cleaver or Sheriff Andy Taylor or Lt. Columbo? They would have hated the constant sharing and the way social media has changed us. Ward would have to sit the Beaver down after he posted something dumb about a schoolmate on Facebook. Andy would have to warn Opie about judging people too quickly and too harshly. Old-school Draper would have hated social media (he once told Sal to “limit your exposure,” and though it was in a different context I think that’s a good rule for social media in general). Columbo? He’d still have a flip phone like I do (though he’d probably constantly lose it and have to borrow yours).

Sci-fi writer J.G. Ballard predicted social media and smartphones. He wrote this in 1977 (via Open Culture):

All this, of course, will be mere electronic wallpaper, the background to the main programme in which each of us will be both star and supporting player. Every one of our actions during the day, across the entire spectrum of domestic life, will be instantly recorded on video-tape. In the evening we will sit back to scan the rushes, selected by a computer trained to pick out only our best profiles, our wittiest dialogue, our most affecting expressions filmed through the kindest filters, and then stitch these together into a heightened re-enactment of the day. Regardless of our place in the family pecking order, each of us within the privacy of our own rooms will be the star in a continually unfolding domestic saga, with parents, husbands, wives and children demoted to an appropriate supporting role.

And in an interview in 1987, he said this:

Every home will be transformed into its own TV studio. We’ll all be simultaneously actor, director and screenwriter in our own soap opera. People will start screening themselves. They will become their own TV programmes.

That’s pretty much dead on. The only things he didn’t see coming were how often people would photograph their lunch for everyone to see and take selfies in bathroom mirrors.