A full stop on an old-fashioned typewriter was a large black blob as wide as a letter. When computers arrived they brought in typefaces with proportional spacing and the full stop diminished to a small dot.
For me, as a former typewriter user, the effect was to make the full stop matter less. The most crucial part of the sentence became a mere speck: easy to insert unthinkingly, easy to miss out altogether.
Then along came another threat - texting and chatting online. The dialogic visual language of texting speech bubbles, pinging left and right on your phone, has little use for full stops. A single-line text needs no punctuation to show that it has ended. In lieu of a full stop, we press “send”. The end of a text is now more commonly marked by a kiss, or an emoji, than a full stop. Studies have even shown that people tend to read a text that ends with a full stop as curt or passive-aggressive.
We live in a digital age that likes to pretend that writing is speech. We tap out emails, texts and update our social media profiles in the places – busy commuter trains, cafes and streets – where we also talk. We write as if we were talking. This kind of digital writing is often done quickly in the hope of an instant response. It is a slightly interrupted way of having a conversation.