As email has come to rival the telephone as one of society's most ubiquitous communication tools, I've often been curious about how writing style differs in that format from the traditional printed word. In particular, I wonder why people often refrain altogether from using capitals.
When I write emails, I still capitalize the first letter of the first word in a sentence, along with the usual proper names and so on. But at least half the people I know don't capitalize a single thing. And it's not something I can dismiss as mere laziness, because for some reason the people I find most consistently favoring a no-capitals email style are some of the smartest I know. My editors at the New York Times, for example, are almost exclusively no-capital. So is my friend Ady, who finished high school early and now is a documentary filmmaker, graphic artist, furniture maker, silk screener and classically trained musician. Ditto for my friend Chad, who is the most gifted musician I've ever known. What is it that drives these people to the conclusion that the email format has rendered capital letters obsolete when hundreds of years of printed writing deemed it necessary?
I don't want to simply be a curmudgeon about this, because I know that language has always been a fluid, evolving entity. But I'm curious: what is it about simply writing these electronically delivered letters and memos that are different? We were all consistently using capitals with word processing programs for years before email came along, although those were still geared toward something printed. Is it because email usually never leaves a computer screen that capitals are unnecessary? If so, that makes capitalized names and sentence-beginning words the equivalent of the nicer clothes we wear when we're going out, and a non-caps style more like the sweat pants we wear in the comfort of home when nobody important is around.
But that explanation doesn't completely satisfy me either, because I think that part of what attracts people to caps-free email style is its graphic appeal. Without those occasional capital letters, somehow the collection of words and sentences looks more consistent from a visual perspective. You might even say it looks cool. After all, a lot of graphic design, be it album covers or billboards, favors text with no capitals. I just can't decide if I like this. I guess I find the issue to be intellectually interesting, but at the same time, when somebody writes me a message without using capital letters, I still always feel the nagging desire to print out the message and fill the page with corrective red pen marks.