Do you follow Joey Comeau’s twitter? He linked an article the other day about youth literacy I thought was not all that interesting when I first read it, but in retrospect was pretty astonishing. I think it was Stanford Professor studying how all this electronic communication effects how young people write. You know, looking into that “Twitter is killing the paragraph! Texting is ruining grammar! Bah!” stuff.|
She went through the bits about how much more expressive kids are with their language, and how they’re actually pretty good with grammar and that they actually read and write quite a bit what with all their status updates and IMs and blogs and everything. All that wasn’t very surprising to a participant. You people are NOT devolving into Neanderthals of language, grunting “blog.” and using blunt (direct) objects. Most of you make me look like a pre-schooler, actually.
What got me was her point about older generations. Young people, she said, do tons of extra-curricular writing to argue points and review things and such and they share that writing, so they get tons of peer feedback and get very good at adapting their writing for their audience. But after they got out of school, most old folks never had to write a paragraph again unless they were in very specific fields. Maybe they’d write a letter or something but for the most part, they’re totally unpracticed in communicating through text. Wow, just wow.
I always think about older people valuing books and READING things. They’re the ones who actually consume newspapers, for instance. They look at signs. They write and send real physical mail. Old people are literacy kings! Back when they were in school they did hardcore stuff like sentence diagrams and writing papers without spellcheckers and memorization. I couldn’t cut it in that world at all. And they’re always rightfully smug about having worked in those conditions.
It never occurred to me that it didn’t work that way. Reading does not necessarily magically improve your writing. Writing improves your writing! And you have to do a ton of it to evolve. Much of the writing old people are seeing on the internets is their own. And they’re bad at it! Have you ever received a well written, expressive e-mail from a person over 60? They make PILES of grammar errors. (Admittedly, I think that’s partially because their eyes are going bad and they can’t see things like periods very well. And also arthritis must make typing hard, especially if you’re all QWERTY style typewriter stance.) They use harsh, simple sentence structures that make them sound angry all the time. Everything is formatted funny so it looks like a telegraph. It’s awkward as hell. It nevr occured to me that it wasn't just a crippling fear of technology, I guess.