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Clive Thompson on the New Literacy

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“The world has gone online.” This is a common phrase in the current era of globalization whereby everything is being done online, including business transactions. Communication between and among different people located in different parts of the world has become easy, thanks to instant messaging features of the numerous online social networks and electronic devices. In fact, it is easy to communicate to more than two persons from different locations of the world at the same time. Current online social networks have instant chat features, where individuals can chat by texting each other. With the introduction of smart phones, tablets and other hi-tech handheld communication devices, the amount of texting has increased substantially. The substantial increase in online chatting has had a negative effect on our writing skills.

In the article “Clive Thompson on the New Literacy,” Thompson tells the readers to be ready to hear experts, especially the teachers, complain about how the modern society kids cannot write as the school year begins. Thompson blames technology for this. He says that Facebook is encouraging continuous selfish talk between individuals; video and PowerPoint have replaced cautiously written essays, while texting has reduced language into bleak and sad shorthand. Thompson refers to John Sutherland’s, an English Professor at the University College of London, sentiments were he refers the current age as “an age of illiteracy” (Thompson 1). This is because of distortion of formal writing skills by modern social language.

Thompson also refers to Andrea Lunsford’s, professor of writing and rhetoric at Stanford University, findings. Thompson states that Lunsford is not sure about his findings. Lunsford conducted research study to evaluate the effectiveness of college students’ prose. She utilized data collected from essays, class assignments, emails, blog posts, journal entries, and chat sessions of 14,672 students between 2001 and 2006. Lunsford concluded that the world is currently in the middle of a literacy revolution. She states that this literacy revolution has never been seen since the Greek civilization. Lunsford disagrees that technology is killing our ability to write. Instead, she says that it is revitalizing out the ability to write as well as pushing our literacy in new directions.

In her research, Lunsford found that young people write much more than any generation before them (Thompson 1). She states this is all because much socialization takes place online and it involves texting. Lunsford also argues that technology has contributed to improvement of our writing skills because before the introduction of the internet many Americans never wrote anything apart from school assignments. She says that unless an individual got a job that required writing such as law and media, he/she could leave school and never construct a sentence again. However, I disagree with Lunsford argument. This is because before introduction of technology people used to communicate using letters. Therefore, people used to write a lot because there was no other means of sending information apart from letters. Besides, since there was no texting, formal writing was not distorted. People were even write friendly and other informal letters while paying attention to grammar rules.

In my opinion, technology, especially online media, does not improve our writing skills nor push our literacy to new directions. Instead, it distorts our writing abilities. This is because students as well as other individuals are using the text language while conducting formal writing. Online social media utilizes text messages, which are usually brief. The shortness of the texts is due to shortening of the word, use of abbreviations, which are not grammatically recognized, lack of punctuations and the use of poorly constructed sentences, among other feature of text language. Due to the substantial amount of texting, students and other individuals are getting used to the text language. When one becomes used to doing a certain thing, it eventually becomes a habit and obviously, a habit becomes a part of an individual’s way of doing things. For this reason people are using the text language to conduct formal writing.

Teachers are really complaining that they are having a hard time when assessing students’ assignment. This is because many of them are written in text language. Grown-ups, who spend most of the time on online social media, have also adopted the text language. It is not a surprise to find a departmental head writing a memo to his subordinates in text language. Recently a neighbor came to our house holding a piece of paper and requested me to ready it for her since she could not understand some of the information in the paper. It was a memo from her boss, which she was supposed to edit and send copies to her colleagues. I was surprised to find that her boss had used a lot of text language in such a formal document. She told me that her boss spent most of his free time on the internet chatting with friends. This provides evidence that technology affects our writing skills.

Besides, online social media does not push our literacy to new directions because most people who spend much time on social network usually chat with their friends or read updates from their friends. These updates are usually written in text language. Therefore, they do add no value to an individual’s literacy level. Furthermore, these are usually updates about one’s recent activities and whereabouts (they are not educative in nature). Very few people spend time on the internet reading articles, books or other literally materials. It is clear that social media technology neither improves our writing skills nor does it push our literacy level to new directions. I therefore disagree with Lunsford’s sentiments that technology improves our writing skills and pushes our literacy to new directions.

The substantial increase in online chatting has had a negative effect on our writing skills. People are getting used to the text language due to the substantial amount of time they are spending in online social networks. This is slowly translating into a habit, which in return is affecting our writing skills. Students, as well as other individuals, are using text language when conducting formal writing.

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