A few weeks ago, I was chatting with someone about my aspirations vis-à-vis my college education and professional future. He asked me what my major was, and as I tried to respond he cut me off. "Doesn't matter," he said, "as long as you learn how to COMMUNICATE."

At first I was annoyed, because when he asked about my major he had clearly planned to interrupt me. But he was older, employed, and ostensibly wiser than I (and balding, which I understand also implies wisdom), so I didn't disregard his insight right away. And the more I reflected on my own communication skills and those of my fellow collegians, the more worried I became.

My generation has grown up in the Information Age, a revolutionary era in human communications. It began with invention of the World Wide Web, a public domain that allowed programmers to design interactive sites accessible to everyone else with a computer and a telephone. It wasn't a big deal at first, because the only people who owned computers were the U.S. military, NASA, and Steve Jobs. These days, the Nielsen Company estimates that a half billion people have home internet access.

Soon, everything went electronic: "mail" became "email"; "business" became "e-business"; "geeks" became "rich people." Everyone and everything was hooked up, and those who resisted the movement were dragged to the town square and beaten with motherboards.

Thusly, a sort of "e-Darwinism" took hold. Kids who grew up in the '90s were forced to adapt to these new mediums of communication or die. Mavis Beacon replaced kickball as the primary recess-time preoccupation, and the straggling two-finger typists fell victim to derisive name-calling and school-wide emails portraying their underwear being run up virtual flagpoles, designed with animation software by ruthless "e-bullies."

So in theory, Generation "E-" represents the most communication-savvy edition of mankind. So why am I concerned about our ability to communicate?

Here's why: Quantity is forcing quality to the backseat. That is to say, the fact that we communicate so frequently is causing our communication skills to deteriorate. I call it "e-irony."

Consider AOL Instant Messenger, otherwise known as "A-I-M" (or "aim" to those who don't have time for polysyllabic abbreviations). AIM has made communication between friends, family members, and colleagues easier than ever. Inversely, it has made such communication less coherent than ever.

It began harmlessly enough with the routine omission of superfluous conjunctions and an occasional disregard for grammar rules. Then AIM users started taking huge chunks out of words, sometimes abbreviating them by way of frenetic spelling. Finally, with the clever invention of the "emoticon," words were eliminated from e-communication entirely.

To illustrate this regress, we will track a conversation from its original phrasing to its modern form. See if you can catch the difference at each stage.

Stage 1: original phrasing:

John: Hey, Mike. Are you going home after school?

Mike: I don't think so. I definitely want to get to the game on time, so I'll probably go straight from class.

John: I hate that we get out so late.

Mike: Me too. I'll talk to you later.

Stage 2: adaptation into AIM language:

Jeezy45677: hey mike u goin home after skool?

EggMcMike: i dont think so i def wanna get 2 the game on time so ill prob go str8 from class.

Jeezy45677: I h8 that we get out so l8.

EggMcMike: me 2. ttyl.

Stage 3: adaptation into AIM language (with emoticons):

Jeezy45677: :-D?

EggMcMike: :'-[

Jeezy45677: :-X

EggMcMike: ;-P

Even more disturbing has been some people's tendency to assimilate popular abbreviations into their regular speech modes. Occasionally, frequent AIM users will end a face-to-face interaction by actually saying "T-T-Y-L." These people can be disciplined with a corrective cuff to the back of the head. Any firm object or appendage will suffice.

Still, some might laud this linguistic streamlining as efficient?a simple case of us adapting our language to the evolution of technology. But believe it or not, there are still people and institutions out there that expect folks to be able to communicate thoughts that can't be expressed by variations on the smiley face.

Like, for example, your professors. While spending six hours a day online may do wonders for your WPM, it can create some embarrassingly bad habits. In high school, I had a friend who got an English paper back and noticed that he had written "u" instead of "you" in several places. His teacher had simply circled them in red pen. I guess even English teachers have trouble communicating certain thoughts.

Hobbes once said to Calvin, "Maybe someday we'll make language a complete impediment to understanding." "Someday" is probably a ways off, but that is no excuse for complacency. It seems naive to think that the simple homogeneity of e-language has no negative affect on our ability to write creatively and convey complex ideas.

So, in this age of instant messaging, instant access, and (delicious) instant oatmeal, exercise patience in cultivating your communication talents. You just may wind up a little richer, a little wiser, and perhaps a little balder for it.