Graphic Design Editor
In a 2009 edition of Wired, a monthly American magazine that focuses on new technologies, culture, politics and trends, Clive Thompson wrote an article titled, “The New Literacy.” The piece examined the effect that texting, social media and other various forms of writing have upon people.
The common perception is that shorthanded, abbreviated snippets of text are making everyone, especially the younger generation, poor writers. Illiteracy will soon swoop over every Tweeter, Facebook fanatic and texting tyrant and engulf them in an ocean of misspelled words and acronyms.
While this belief is prevalent among many, there are some individuals who do not believe that new technologies will lead to widespread illiteracy. Rather, they are pushing our literacy in bold new directions.
From 2001 to 2006, Andrea Lunsford, a professor of writing and rhetoric at Stanford University, organized and carried out a giant project called the Stanford Study of Writing. The purpose of the project was to collect student writing samples and analyze them in order to gauge the overall quality of writing. Over 14,000 writing samples were collected that ranged from in-class assignments, formal essays, blog posts and chat sessions.
The results of the findings concluded that the writing samples pointed to an overall confidence and quality in students’ writing. One of the reasons behind this comes from the fact that young people today write much more than any previous generation. This is because of the countless venues that are available for tech-savvy individuals to communicate through. Aside from the major social media platforms, there are many blogs where users can write about a wide range of topics. Many times, these topics are sophisticated and feature complex prose.
According to the study, 38 percent of all the written pieces that were collected occurred outside of the classroom. Before the rise of the Internet, people rarely would write outside of school (unless their job required writing). With mobile devices readily available at our fingertips, we have endless opportunities to compose written messages.
Lunsford’s team also discovered that the students were very well-versed in what they described as kairos, a strategy where writers assess their audience in order to use a certain tone and technique to convey their points. This leads to strong persuasive writing. When people tweet or post a message on Facebook, they anticipate a certain audience that will view it. By knowing this, writers can niftily craft what they want to say.
One myth that was proven wrong by Lunsford’s study was that abbreviated or acronym words such as “Thx”, “Lol” and “Ppl” were transferred into formal written assignments. There was not a single example of this “text” speak in an academic paper.
Perhaps the findings of the study are a bit skewed, based on the fact that the samples were all from college students at an institution with elevated academic standards. But the results do shine light on a society whose writers have been able to diversify and produce volumes and volumes of messages.
The key, however, is the quality of teaching writing to the youth. They have endless opportunities to write, but without proper guidance and technique, all that practice may go to waste.
Clive Thompson wrote in the article: “Online media are pushing literacy into cool directions. The brevity of texting and status-updating teaches young people to deploy haiku-like concision. At the same time, the proliferation of new forms of online pop-cultural exegesis from sprawling TV-show recaps to 15,000-word video game walk-throughs has given them a chance to write enormously long and complex pieces of prose, often while working collaboratively with others.”
Clearly, the amount of data that is available to view in addition to the potential amount that we can contribute is startlingly vast. It will be interesting to see in the upcoming years how our literacy develops and if it takes a turn for the better or for the worse. There obviously are some examples where the “text” words have negatively impacted some writing pieces, but Lunsford’s study gives concrete proof otherwise.
So, the next time someone criticizes the younger generation’s inability to write meaningful, quality written messages, you may want to Tweet or text them a counter argument.
For more information, Matt may be reached at mvaghi@