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When using technology, discipline is required

Albany Herald Guest Columnist Loran Smith

Albany Herald Guest Columnist Loran Smith

Any English teacher will tell you that good grammar comes from practicing good grammar. When I have ever written anything I would later like to recall, it is because I was in too much of a hurry and failed to take a few minutes to proof what was written.

With a poor hand when it comes to writing, I realized years ago that a typewriter would be a treasured friend. Then along came the computer, and efficiency was heightened considerably.

I have often concluded that for technology to be best utilized, discipline is required. There was a time when a competent copy editor was a newspaper operation’s most valued asset. In bygone days, the Athens Banner-Herald had one of the best, the late Dan Kitchens, who also taught at the Henry Grady School of Journalism at the University of Georgia. At one time, he was the faculty advisor to the Red and Black, the student newspaper. He read every word in the paper and marked errors with a red grease pencil. When he met with the staff to offer his cynical critique, no one was spared. I have to believe it made the paper better and produced highly regarded reporters — who, later, as seasoned newsmen, paid tribute to Dan and his admonition that writers should make a determined effort to get it right before their work made it into print. He once heard a network announcer on the Today show make a grammatical faux pas. He called NBC, got her on the phone and gave her hell for being so irresponsible.

If Dan were here today, he would be appalled at what seems to get by editors today. Further, he would have the greatest disdain for e-mail sloppiness. Even between friends.

When thank-you notes arrive at our address, I always have the most generous affection for those warm, hand-written messages. That someone still takes the time to write a thoughtful note these days is something to value. If an e-mail letter comes with errors from beginning to end, I silently yell that I wish Dan Kitchens were here to caustically retort, which he surely would do.

Here is a recent example. The other day, a kindly person chose to e-mail a note and began with, “I wood like to thank you . . . .” I can just hear Kitchens now. “Wood is something you burn” or “Wood is what trees are made of.” Probably something more scathing.

My friendly e-mail author continued on, butchering the language with his noun-verb disagreement and shameful pronoun misuse. This is someone with a college degree — he knows better. What is obvious is that he did not proof his e-mail, which was probably batted out in a few seconds.

Even when you are communicating with friends, why not make the message as clean and as personal as possible? I can’t wait until people start e-mailing wedding and graduation invitations. That’s when we don’t have to attend or send gifts. When the e-mailing of such invitations takes place, you can also expect cash bar receptions. That’s probably coming

The computer and the Internet offer so much to all of us. Anybody who doesn’t use a computer in any business activity is likely to fail to reach maximum efficiency in his work. Sherpas on Mount Everest have cell phones. And so do fishermen on houseboats in Hong Kong and sheep herders in Sudan. Probably iPhones, too.

What does all this technology mean? We are losing our creativity. Our writing is suffering and our language is being distorted and compromised.

The survival of newspapers is being challenged, libraries will soon be put on the endangered species list, and, worst of all — there won’t be any more love letters.

Loran Smith is affiliated with the University of Georgia and can be reached via e-mail at loransmithathens@bellsouth.net.