Friday, 22 May 2009

When is punctuation like pop music?

There's a rather fine article on exclamation marks (you're familiar with my feelings on exclamation marks, aren't you?) on the Guardian website. Good stuff. It's actually one of the best-written online newspaper articles I've read in a long time [Christ, I know, I'm setting the bar high, aren't I?]

The following got me thinking:

Shipley and Schwalbe argue that in the internet age, a dash of sensation is just what is needed. "Email is without affect," they write. "It has a dulling quality that almost necessitates kicking everything up a notch just to bring it to where it would normally be."

Hence the profusion of exclamation marks. Stuart Jeffries (who wrote the article) takes issue with the post-rationalising theories of Shipley and Schwalbe – but the idea of an exclamation mark arms race does seem to ring true.

It reminded me, in fact, of compression in recorded music – the process whereby dynamic contrasts of loud and soft are ironed out in favour of a uniform loudness. I've written about this – in the context of a record review – on Heavy Soil.

In the case of both the email exclamation mark and the record producer's compression processor, there's that idea of making something a bit larger than life, a bit more 'real', a bit more punchy, a bit 'louder'.

And all it does is make everyone else do the same, for fear of seeming insipid/lifeless/quiet.

Anyhow. I urge you to read the whole article. It's funny – and clever.

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