You see, this is how my mind runs....
A little while ago I was pondering on the curious phenomenon of using full stops ('periods', if you must, Yanquis) after each word to suggest a heavy and threatening emphasis, the kind of choking rage that gives a sputtering hesitancy to your speech.
Yes. This. Kind. Of. Thing. Dammit.
I'm not a big fan of it myself, but it seems to be almost ubiquitous among our American cousins these days.
And it is, I think, fairly recent. Probably, in fact, a product of the e-mail/IM/SMS era.
I fell to thinking that it might be possible to discover its first occurrence, and maybe even to track its dissemination from there.
And then it occurred to me.....
The biographers, philologists, and sociologists of the future will operate almost entirely on the basis of such online researches. Whatever 'privacy' tools we try to avail ourselves of now, I'm sure further evolutions of Web technology will make it possible not just to trace everything we write online but to reconstruct our entire browsing history too. And when this is the case, charting the history of 'memes' may become a far more interesting field of inquiry than recording the mundane particulars of the fragile and ephemeral human beings who propagated them. The great prize for these researchers of the future will be to identify a Patient Zero for every quirk of language, a first instance from which the virus of linguistic innovation has spread.
But however thorough our immersion in online culture becomes, and however omnipotent may be the tracking tools developed for resurrecting our personal Web histories, there will always be inexplicable lacunae in the record, baffling breaks in the chain of causation. Where a language meme seems to have made such a leap, to have broken out in more than one place simultaneously with no demonstrable online link between its users...... well, the researchers of the future will be sorely vexed. They will shake their heads dolefully, and surmise - with a pitying sigh - that this must then have been the result of a Real World Interaction.
Or RWI, as they will soon become known. Although they will, of course, be increasingly rare and unimportant, and scorned by the generality of the population who find the Virtual World so much more stimulating.
This is the future. Oh, yes.