The New Literacy

New technologies are often blamed for the “dumbing-down” of new generations, but it’s hard to see that any generation is “dumber” than the one before it in a historical context. Professor Andrea Lunsford of Stanford University studied college students' writing and how it changed from 2002 to 2006.
The first thing she found is that young people today write far more than any generation before them. That's because so much socializing takes place online, and it almost always involves text. Of all the writing that the Stanford students did, a stunning 38 percent of it took place out of the classroom—life writing, as Lunsford calls it. Those Twitter updates and lists of 25 things about yourself add up.

It's almost hard to remember how big a paradigm shift this is. Before the Internet came along, most Americans never wrote anything, ever, that wasn't a school assignment. Unless they got a job that required producing text (like in law, advertising, or media), they'd leave school and virtually never construct a paragraph again.

On the one hand, you may look at YouTube comments and chat rooms and think literacy is going into the dumpster. On the other hand, those are millions of people who would otherwise never communicate a thought in public if the internet were not available to them. Writer Clive Thompson says the new technology has changed the meaning of writing for younger people.
The fact that students today almost always write for an audience (something virtually no one in my generation did) gives them a different sense of what constitutes good writing. In interviews, they defined good prose as something that had an effect on the world. For them, writing is about persuading and organizing and debating, even if it's over something as quotidian as what movie to go see.

Of course, not every young internet commenter will go on to be a Stanford student. Do you see the internet as an aid or a hindrance to literacy? Link -via Metafilter

(image credit: Mads Berg)

Newest 5
Newest 5 Comments

"The fact that students today almost always write for an audience ..."

I'll have to disagree with this to a large extent. Most people who add their voices to the Internet are writing for themselves, not for others, otherwise they would make more of an effort to be coherent. Too much anymore, the responsibility of understanding is shifted to the reader, rather than remaining with the writer.

However, I believe Lynn has a good point in that the stupid didn't have as great a voice before the popularization of the Internet. And they seem to be the ones more apt to open their mouths without thought.

Still, if we're referring to literacy in the sense of reading comprehension, then yes, I wholeheartedly believe we are currently in a state of decline. I do, however, blame this on the schools, not the Internet.
Abusive comment hidden. (Show it anyway.)
At first I thought Adi got it right, tho the rudeness and deterioration in grammar is dismaying [the latter is even "more bad" than before the internet :)]. But...
Everybody wants to talk - nobody wants to READ.
This is the crunch. Literacy levels are declining in my country, Canada. About half of Canucks can't manage a simple magazine article or novel, despite their spewing of ever greater volumes of broken english on the internet.
So, in this broader respect, i guess it is, at best, a wash, not a net gain.
Abusive comment hidden. (Show it anyway.)
Login to comment.

Email This Post to a Friend
"The New Literacy"

Separate multiple emails with a comma. Limit 5.


Success! Your email has been sent!

close window

This website uses cookies.

This website uses cookies to improve user experience. By using this website you consent to all cookies in accordance with our Privacy Policy.

I agree
Learn More