The English Language — Be Back in a GIF

Move over, Webster’s Dictionary. A new consonant constable is in town. The Google Search Algorithm is now in charge of what makes for good diction and syntax.

Google’s always evolving list of SEO best practices are now incentivizing the integration of more video and less words into the content of a website. This means that websites with less words and more videos are more likely to be ranked higher and therefore frequented more.

But we knew this was coming. A 2014 report by Cisco estimated that by 2019, about 80% of traffic will originate from video content.

Now I’m not saying Google is ranking in its search results a video higher than a lengthy online blog post, for example, for purposes of dumbing down the population. They’re ranking video higher because more people would rather watch something than read it.

What I am saying is that this reality is nothing more than a symptom of the larger illness of illiteracy, a decreasing vocabulary and a shortening attention span among people (including myself).

The problem we are facing as a society is that such SEO algorithms are contributing to our downward literary spiral. This should frighten us.

I’m not against videos and images as one means to the end of learning. After all — they say that a picture may be worth a thousand words.

However the thing about mastering a language is that it takes repeated access to and integration of it in order for its content to stay with us. We must practice using words in order to retain them. And so if the main source of our information isn’t words at all, then we risk a steady decline in our grasp of the English language. Didn’t George Orwell warn us about this?

Some argue that words are simply one form of language. Fine. Putting aside a metaphysical exploration of language itself … let’s just talk about this topic in practical terms. There are different types of languages. There is body language that can communicate disinterest at a party. There is the raising of a certain finger while driving in traffic that alerts others to anger and frustration. And so on.

My argument herein this post is simply that although there are many forms of communication, there is no clearer a correspondence and no more fulsome an expression than when it is in the form of the written and spoken word.

I am happy to get metaphysical if you so desire. So let me pose this question: what is language other than a declaration, by means of words, of underlying (and often immaterial) ideas? After all — language is ultimately nothing more than a vehicle for the conveyance of concepts.

I don’t want to delve into this topic on the level of the likes of Ludwig Wittgenstein. Certainly my vocabulary is infinitesimal when compared to his. My point is simply that as the content we take in transitions away from words and more towards video, our very grasp of reality begins to loosen.

Ideas and concepts — reality itself — begins to narrow when we can’t express it. Let’s read more and watch less. Otherwise the English language itself will be gone … and gone in a GIF.