Following up on various recent discussions of how Twitter and other new communications media may be affecting the English language, I'd like to draw your attention to a well-reasoned consideration of this issue from an earier era: Robert Lincoln O'Brien, "Machinery and English Style", The Atlantic Monthly 1904:
In every age since written language began, rhetorical forms have been to a considerable extent influenced by the writing materials and implements which were available for man's use. This is a familiar observation in studies of the past. Is it not, then, time that somebody inquired into the effects upon the form and substance of our present-day language of the veritable maze of devices which have come into widely extended use in recent years, such as the typewriter, with its invitation to the dictation practice; shorthand, and, most important of all, the telegraph? Certainly these agencies of expression cannot be without their marked and significant influences upon English style.
Were the effects of these appliances limited to the persons actually using them such an inquiry would not be worth making. […]
But, unfortunately, no man writes to himself alone. The makers of the popular vocabulary decree to a great extent the words which the recluse of the cloister must select. If the typewriter and the telegraph, for mechanical reasons purely, are encouraging certain words, certain arrangements of phrases, and a different dependence on punctuation, such an influence is a stone whose ripples, once set in motion, wash every shore of the sea of literature.
Of course, complaints about the effects of 19th-century new media began quite a bit earlier. Thus "The Lament of a Leader-Wrlter", Westminster Review (repriinted in Current Literature, 1900)
An old friend of mine, who entered journalism in 1854, and is still on the staff of a leading London paper, tells me of the golden age before the wire was used for everything. Those were the days of the careful leader, well written and well weighed, because its author knew that it could not be upset by the sudden arrival of a telegram while the ink was still wet on the paper. The leader-writer nowadays has no time to devote to style, for he has almost always to write against time, and it is only rarely that he is permitted to keep the whole of his "copy" by him; the usual practice is to tear it from him slip by slip in order to pacify the clamorous printers upstairs. Then there is ever at his elbow that infernal machine, the "tape," which at any moment may put forth some unwelcome contradiction of all that he has written in the last half-hour. I agree heartily with a very distinguished Italian journalist, who remarked to me that the electric telegraph had ruined literary journalism. It is no longer necessary for a journalist to be able to write. I know of one able correspondent of a leading London newspaper who would be puzzled to string together an article in decent English, but who, thanks to the free use of the telegraph, can perform his duties to the complete satisfaction of his employers.
If you're a uncertain as I was about what this author means by "leader", the OED's definition of leading article is "One of the longer large-type articles in a newspaper, appearing as the expression of editorial opinion on any subject; a leader." As far as I can tell, this category no longer exists in any of the newspapers that I read — perhaps one of our better-informed readers can explain the history in more detail.
Among the fruits of this morning's scan of Google Books, my favorite so far is this observation about the emotional dimension of telegraphy, from The Medical Times and Gazette, 1880:
During the intervals that occur, in the occupation of, say, two telegraphists placed vis-à-vis, and at distant stations (perhaps hundreds of miles apart), they have sometimes to exchange asides in connexion with their correspondence, or they may be tempted to snatch a chat with each other, especially when, as sometimes happens, from having long shaken hands with each other in the spirit, though not in the flesh, they may be said to have become pretty intimately acquainted. On these occasions, instead of the ordinary telegraphic language, they often make use of even a more rapid and suggestive code of signals, expressive of the feelings and emotions, such as anger, laughter, astonishment, regret, approval, delight, fear, interrogation, suspicion, thanks, scolding, kissing, etc. These ideas are expressed not in the regular way of letters and words, but transmitted through the sounder by a conventional or mutually understood articulation of taps—a succession of notes and intervals grouped and toned in such a way as to give even to an uninitiated ear the very idea intended to be conveyed.
On hearing a specimen of this kind of language at a lecture by a telegraphist, I was forcibly reminded of the natural language of some of the lower animals, such as the chattering of monkeys, and of parrots, crows, or jackdaws, and strengthened in the idea that they too may have a similar language among themselves, which they as readily understand and appreciate as our telegraphists do theirs.
Unfortunately, there's no evidence that this "even more rapid and suggestive code of signals" (if it really existed) has left any significant wrack on the shores of the sea of literature.