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The Curious Case Of The Missing 'I'02:55
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Julie Wittes Schlack: "What’s behind this growing trend toward telegraphic text?" (@Doug88888/flickr)MoreCloseclosemore
Julie Wittes Schlack: "What’s behind this growing trend toward telegraphic text?" (@Doug88888/flickr)

I recently received this email from the CEO of a start-up, a young man eager to do business with my company. “Was wondering if we could schedule a follow up next week with you,” he wrote. “Would love the opportunity to earn your business and help your team. Can envision many positive synergies.”

Notice the lack of personal pronouns in his message? It’s typical, at least in my line of work, where practically every other email opens with “Great talking with you,” usually followed by an exclamation point. And I admit that I often end my notes with a “Looking forward to hearing from you,” or “Can’t wait!”

But signing off is one thing; omitting “I” from every sentence in the message is another.

What’s behind this growing trend toward telegraphic text? Don’t know.

Thumb-typing on smart phones is one obvious answer. And in fairness to the harried typist, it’s not as though we need the personal pronoun to understand the meaning of the message.

So okay, the fewer characters the better. But when the missing character isn’t just a letter, but the writer, that absent “I” begins to feel more curious.

Are we developing a culture of self-effacement?

I worry that it reflects just how flat-out crazed we are, too time-starved either to write complete sentences or to read them.

I’m a feisty baby boomer who works with a lot of Gen-Xers and Millennials. At the risk of stereotyping, I have noticed that these younger generations tend to be conflict averse. They avoid explicit disagreements with others.

But are they shunning self-assertion in language, as well, seeing use of the personal pronoun as somehow confrontational or unseemly? Or is the opposite dynamic at work? Do people not feel the need for personal pronouns because, after all, who else is there but me?

Perhaps this is just linguistic evolution at work, as we slough off flowery, needless formalities in favor of more direct speech.

Still, I worry that it reflects just how flat-out crazed we are, too time-starved either to write complete sentences or to read them.

Hope that’s not true. Would make me sad.

Listen to other commentaries by Julie Wittes Schlack:

Julie Wittes Schlack Twitter Cognoscenti contributor
Julie Wittes Schlack writes essays, short stories and book reviews for various publications, including WBUR's Cognoscenti and The ARTery, and is the author of “This All-at-Onceness” (Pact Press, 2019).

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