"a fish, a barrel, and a smoking gun"
for 13 March 1996. Updated every WEEKDAY.

cApital Offense


[the death of print]

Writing for the illiterate has

never been an easy task, but

there's reason to believe that a

significant measure of the

burden has been lifted. We

speak, of course, to the death

of capital-ism. From Adi Da to

Zima, no one seems to care about

the "correct" use of capital

letters anymore. Typography -

and typing, for that matter -

has become a tool for design,

not literature, and nowhere is

this more appreciated than on

the Web, where reading has been

replaced by scanning, skimming

replaced by surfing. The death

of capitals is just another

sign that we don't have to

actually read the text in order

to understand what's being

communicated. If both the

beginning of ideas and Important

Concepts are delineated by

capital letters, their

conspicuous absence becomes a

comforting indicator that we're

not missing anything.



In the land of logos, it makes

sense to deploy case in the

service of style instead of

sense. Fashioning a corporate

identity out of nothing but type

is a triumph of economy and

ensures a certain amount of

incorruptibility and longevity.



However, the imposition of

lowercase on content that once

existed happily in a less

ambiguous and more binary time

seems puzzling.


[better, stronger, faster]

The literary lineage of

little-used caps makes their use

often seem like nothing more

than a pretentious affectation,

but in real life, for real

people, the motivation is

usually quite direct. Writes one

correspondent, queried on her

less-than-standard style: "fuck

ee cummings, i just can't type

very well." And skipping a whole

case certainly eliminates an

entire class of potential error

by simply conceding to it -

much like the urge to confess that

you suck.



In the context of newbie email

FAQs, with their constant

warnings NOT TO SHOUT, one

wonders if noncapital writing is

perhaps the digital version of

upspeak? The net manifestation

of making every sentence sound

like a question? One asked by a

pre-pubescent girl?



To be sure, there seems to be

some connection between the

screwing with text and skewing

young - Fox transmogrifies

their logo thusly, and spiv's

son-of-Dynamite graphics are

obviously tailor-made for the

training-bra set.



But upspeak - aural or otherwise -

is about more than age. As


management-consultant Deborah

Tannen has observed, verbal tics

like upspeak usually betray a

fundamental insecurity about

one's ability to communicate

effectively. Maybe

all-lowercase, all-the-time

implies a profound sense of

unease about text in the age of

images. The casualness with

which we've tossed aside a

basic rule of writing has to

mean something, right?



It used to. Both e.e. cummings

and bell hooks gave up capitals

to make certain statements

(granted, we're not sure what

they were), but now that we

have netgirl and c|net,

well...lowercase just seems

lower class.


[editor's note]

For those in the business of

digital communication, lowercase

means casual. A

letter-from-the-editor in

a hipster digizine becomes a

chummy chat when delivered in

the cozy case.


[squirt tv]

Some might trace the

disappearance of capitals to the

increased randomness of their

deploy. A few years ago begat

the age of InterCaps. Companies

like Apple, with the release of

MacPaint, and NeXT, with

NeXTStep, NeXTSTEP, and every

other InterCap variation, forced

the shift key, perhaps hoping

that the extra strokes would

provide what marketing and

engineering ingenuity (or Steve

Jobs) couldn't - success.



Of course, now that the death of

capitalism has whittled its way

down to children's books,

showing it to be hopelessly

second wave (and making it even

more doubtful that the educators

of today's youth will be able to

have them mind their [capital]

P's and Q's), we need to select

a new phenomenon to tide us over

until the end of the millennium.

We like to think that the

people's choice will be the Rise

of Marksism - after all, once

we've broken free of the

oppressive yoke of capital

letters and their

phallogocentric underpinnings,

what's left but to puncture the

punctilious with punctuation?

courtesy of Ann O'Tate