Monday, February 15, 2010

Social Networks vs Modern Literacy

I admit that I probably spend more time than I should on social networks. If I have a browser open you can be certain that I have one tab opened on Facebook and, more recently, one opened for Googles new effort: Google Buzz. Everyday I see status updates written in the form of text speak (txt spk?) and each time I see it I die a little inside. Now I'm certainly no technophob, quite the opposite in fact, so I understand the purpose of text speak. When using SMS you have a limited number of characters, so naturally you will find a way to send out the maximum amount of information within these limitations. I don't have a problem with that.

The problem I see is that this style of writing is creeping away from it's intended purpose and starting to invade other areas of our lives. Not just on Facebook but on forums, message boards and emails. It seems that we have somehow come to the conclusion that if something is being written electronically, it's okay to use abbreviations. Being a Systems Administrator I get to read a lot of emails on a daily basis. Over the last two years I have seen an unfortunate trend happening. At the start of each semester, the messages and requests we get are becoming less and less coherent. It was just small things at first; u instead of you, ur instead of you're/your. Then the number substitution began to creep in; 4/for 2/too/to.

Now it is easy to turn around and blame things like SMS and the numerous social networking sites. But is that truly where the problems lays? To a certain extent I would have to say that they have had some influence, however the root cause goes much deeper than that. Take a look at the comments section of any online news site and you will see what I mean. The comments being made are, more often than not, done so by those who did not grow up texting or tweeting (ugh I said it, I feel dirty). Yet the standards do not seem to be much higher. I'm not talking about typos, we all make those. I'm talking about little things; Not capitalizing 'I' when speaking in the first person. Starting a sentence in lowercase, or worse (deep breath) not actually using any periods or punctuation in a post at any point so that the entire paragraph becomes one big long sentence and if you ever tried to read it out load you would more than likely die of oxygen starvation before reaching the end is another problem that I can guarantee you will find in each and every comment section of any given article.

So where is this problem coming from. If you ask the parents they will blame the schools. If you ask the schools they will blame the parents. And if you ask both groups at the same time they will blame the Internet. They truth is that all three share some responsibility. A recent study from Canada shows that around 30% of undergrad students cannot pass the bare minimum when it comes to English language skills. Why is this?

I recently attended a writing course where the teacher told us of her own experience. She had come from High School as an English honor student. When reached college she found herself in trouble when it came to things like correct grammar. The reason, she told us, is that if you were an English honor student, they didn't bother to ever explain grammar rules to you. Are you serious? This leads me to ask how you get to be an honor student in that field without ever knowing proper grammer. So here we see a clear failing from the education establishment but what about the parents. This one is a little trickier as they have been failed by the same system. However we need to keep in mind that how a parent approaches the subject of literacy is going to have a dramatic affect on how their child perceives it. If the parent is apathetic then that is going to passed on.

The ability to not just read and write, but to be able to do it in a clear and meaningful way, are absolutely essential if a person wants to get ahead in the world. Our ability to communicate with each other is the very foundation of our society. If you are concerned about the type of literary education your child is receiving I urge you to speak to their teachers, their principles, your representatives. But even more than that, I urge you to get involved as well. Reading to your child from a young age can be more important than just being a way to get them off to sleep. On a global view we are starting to fall behind. Do you really want to be the nation that gets held back a year?

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