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July 06, 2009



I don't think anyone doubts that adults are writing more in the internet age. The question is whether teens and adolescents, who often text, chat and email in hyper-abbreviated jargon, are learning to write prose at all.

Joe Sutton

That "a tweet to a prospective employer is painstakingly honed until its 140 characters convey an appropriate tone with the necessary information" is very true. And when you talk about teens and adolescents and how we text (I am 18), the same can be said there, too.

My friends and I recently had a conversation about how different spelling and punctuation we use in text can create different tones in a medium that requires brevity. It's not that teens and adolescence aren't learning to write prose but rather we've now been using mediums outside of email and letters for communication, and mostly the "jargon" stays in those mediums. And really, while I know people who write exclusively like that exist, there is not one friend I talk to "whe typez lik ths."

You can consider the good of the internet on writing, like how so many people nowadays keep blogs. People have incentive to write, because they are constantly being asked about their lives and interests. I think there are a lot of people who may be updating their blog or twitter who otherwise wouldn't be writing at all if those forms of communication didn't exist.


This is a point I've been making for years. Perhaps texting and tweeting aren't teaching young people to write *well*, but they are writing. Which is something. When I was a teenager we never wrote anything unless we were absolutely forced to.

But then there's the office email. That's a very different thing, and email writing has an art and etiquette all its own. I've noticed younger people come up to speed on how to write for business by learning how to write proper emails, which they must if they want to progess in their careers.

I work in high tech, which is not known for its literary savants. However, I have yet to meet a Director of Development who isn't a good writer and overall excellent communicator. Business still enforces that, and it remains the key to a certain kind of success.

Then of course, there is Harry Potter, which got kids reading all over again. No way is literacy declining. It is resurgent, and evolving.


Its the words of the thing in the other thing.


I have troves of insightful, poignant, funny, sad, profound emails in my SAVED email box and wonder: what to do with them? My hard-drive is over-flowing and I don't know how to archive them. I already lost years of correspondence when I switched from Thinkpad to iBook. So my question is about the future of cataloguing correspondence. I've enjoyed many a-volume of the "The Collected Letters of...[ ]" -- will we see the publication of "The Collected Emails and Twitters..." in years to come?


It's part of this rejection of the notion of a post-literate world. Right now, writing and literacy are more important than they ever were precisely because our technology demands it. While what we write/read may not be standard *insert language here,* literacy as a process is still absolutely necessary to translate the text.

I blogged about this topic not too long ago actually (on a slightly different topic, but still: http://wisb.blogspot.com/2009/06/will-literacy-die-and-will-post.html).


Sonya -

You do raise a good point about the ephemeral nature of electronic correspondence. But in another sense it is more durable than written correspondence, at least in theory. Since it can be copied/archived endlessly, in no time at all. And insects don't eat email.

I would think this will be more of an issue for fiction. With electronic editing, you lose the various versions of a manuscript that help critics understand how it reached its final form. I think that is going to be much more difficult in the future.


I don’t think anyone would argue that concision and pithiness are exceedingly valuable and fun to read/hear. However, when people talk about a decline in writing and people’s abilities to write, they mean that people today are unable/unwilling to engage in extended, challenging writing that requires deep thought. Clearly, collapsing a large point into a small, hilarious rejoinder is a gift (See Oscar Wilde or Winston Churchill), but this in no way replaces (or indeed TRAINS) a person’s ability to keep up this kind of mental rigor over time.

This same sort of argument is mentioned in defense of reading. Yes, people may read more than they did in the past, in terms of the amount time they actually interact with the written word, but if they are not engaging in continuous reading of a single book/argument/article over an extended period of time – asking their brains to maintain concentration, memory, and comprehension over developing arguments or story lines – they are not receiving the benefit of actually reading. One could make the argument that the quick, spliced reading that the internet has inculcated in all of us is actually HURTING our ability to read. Our brains are adapting to grasping things quickly, and if they don’t grasp it quickly, they don’t grasp it.

I think it’s pleasant to justify that Facebook and Twitter, etc, are helping to keep writing and reading alive, but in general, and in the educational sense, I don’t buy it.

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