Every few months or so, we read about some freaked out reporter/columnist/pundit/politician complaining about how the internet and texting are destroying
kids' ability to write. Yet, pretty much every study on the subject has found the opposite to be true. Study
have all found that kids today are better writers than in the past.
Clive Thompson writes about even more research on the subject
, talking to a professor who suggests that, rather than "the death of writing" this is a renaissance:
"I think we're in the midst of a literacy revolution the likes of which we haven't seen since Greek civilization."
That's because people are constantly
writing. Almost all of this communication actually involves writing. In the past, outside of school -- or certain job functions, many people barely wrote at all. And, yes, kids use txt spk at times, but every generation changes and morphs the language. But, more importantly, kids are smart enough to know what's appropriate when in most cases:
Lunsford's team found that the students were remarkably adept at what rhetoricians call kairos—assessing their audience and adapting their tone and technique to best get their point across. The modern world of online writing, particularly in chat and on discussion threads, is conversational and public, which makes it closer to the Greek tradition of argument than the asynchronous letter and essay writing of 50 years ago.
But there's also an interesting philosophical shift that he highlights. Since the type
of writing and the audience
is different than in the past, many younger people today approach writing in a different manner, and even have rethought what they consider to be good writing:
The fact that students today almost always write for an audience (something virtually no one in my generation did) gives them a different sense of what constitutes good writing. In interviews, they defined good prose as something that had an effect on the world. For them, writing is about persuading and organizing and debating, even if it's over something as quotidian as what movie to go see. The Stanford students were almost always less enthusiastic about their in-class writing because it had no audience but the professor: It didn't serve any purpose other than to get them a grade.
This is really fascinating when you think about it. Historically, many people haven't been that concerned about their writing, because it didn't matter
. But, the more it matters, the more seriously they take it. This certainly doesn't mean that everyone has become a good writer -- far from it (just view any open comment forum). But, when people really care about what they're saying, they tend to get better at it, and the internet gives more people more reasons to care. As for all the bad writing out there? It's not a sign of the destruction of written English. Those people probably wouldn't be writing much at all
without the internet. So it's actually a step up, relatively, from what they would have been doing in an alternate internetless universe.