In the article Clive Thompson on the New Literacy, Thompson discusses the effects technologies such as blogs, texts, and social medias have had on the development of writing skills. He begins his article acknowledging the common accordance that technology has ‘dumbed down’ our writing styles and abilities while spending the rest of the article discussing why this has become a common misconception. The article has significantly change my impression on the ways in which technology and social media have affected writing abilities among those in the information age; however, while I do believe there are a couple of negative points Thompson has brushed over, I have found another article describing and experiment that personally allows me to better understand what exactly both Lunsford and Thompson are trying and say and has compelled me to have a more open minded view than before.
Thompson addresses the numerous cases of teachers, writers, and various experts who criticize the way ‘text talk’ has reduced essays to “bleak, bald, and shorthand”. Up until this point in time, as a twenty-year-old in the prime of the technology boom, I have ironically come to believe such. In my opinion, technology has dumbed us down, made us lazy, and has caused us almost as many problems as it has solved. Thompson then points to a study done by Lunsford at Stanford University, in which she collected various writing examples, formal and otherwise, over the course of five years (2001-2006) from Stanford University students. Lunsford claims that we are in fact “in the midst of a literacy revolution the likes of which we haven’t seen since Greek civilization”. Rather than believing technology is holding us back, Lunsford believes that it is actually propelling us forward in new directions.
Lunsford’s findings cover multiple aspects of writing including writing style, quality, quantity, and technique, specifically in students now living in the digital age. Her study found that students now write more than ever, taking writing out of the classroom and into their personal lives whether it involves texting friends, blogging about a multitude of topics, or chatting through various social media websites whereas in previous years, she claims that writing virtually ended after graduation unless necessary for a job. She also points out that before technology there were very few writing outlets outside of the classroom, and there was rarely ever an audience other than teachers.
Many people, myself included, focus not necessarily on the content but more so on the technical side of writing today. Is it professional? Did the writer use spellcheck? Did the writer proofread and edit? Are the sentences logical and the paragraphs well thought out and the organization up to par? According to Lunsford and her study and findings from Stanford University, the answer to all of these questions is yes. While she makes effective points, there are several aspects of her research I find discrepancy with as they do not profoundly back up her points.
One immediate flaw that comes to mind while first reading about Lunsford’s study is that her findings stem only from a small, select group of students over a short period of time. Stanford University is not representative of the population. This school has high standards that come with a high price tag. I find it hard to believe that any student that could both receive acceptance in to the university and either afford the tuition or win a scholarship would in any way be pervious to severe writing flaws brought on by ‘text speech’ as they would have to be incredibly intelligent and probably received high-level public or private school education before attending this prestigious university. Therefore, any findings in this study are virtually irrelevant to the whole of the United States population. It is not a fair assumption to believe that all students are at the same level as Stanford University students. Good or bad, it is impossible. Furthermore, after re-reading the article, I discovered some other significant factors that cause an equally disturbing impact on the results of her study (Clive Thompson on The New Literacy).
After a second review and taking the time to fully discuss the article I realized that the study was conducted between the years 2001 and 2006. This is an old study and was not done in the prime of the information, technology, or digital age as we call it. While Internet was very progressive and cell phones were available to the majority of the population at the time, it still does not compare with the advanced technology we have today or the resources we have to access that technology. Nowadays we have IPhones, IPads, tablets, notebooks (and not the paper ones), Blackberries, and various other phone and computerized devices. In today’s world almost everyone, rich or poor, carries one or more computerized, digital devices around at a time. In order for the study to be more effective, I believe that it should be redone to include a vast, diverse selection of the population, specifically those who are primarily affected by this wealth of digital equipment.
However, another article gave me reason to believe that even though Lunsford study may show some inaccuracies, she very well may have been on to something. A more valid study, in my opinion, was done by Orachorn Kitchakarn at Bangkok University in Thailand. Her study, ironically considering my discrepancies with Lunsford’s experiments, covers a much smaller group of students. Although this is the case, I feel that the extra experimental component in her research better serves to back up the idea that technology may in fact make students better writers.
The professor took on thirty-three first-year students in their first semester of college who have already gone through a basic English writing course. She split the students into groups of five or six and had each student write summaries to be submitted and graded over the course of fourteen weeks. The students were active in writing, revising, peer-editing, and summarizing. The study is actually similar to our own work in class: we come to class, write summaries, discuss articles, and reflect on our writing abilities and thoughts on blogging.
The reason this study has more of an effect on my attitude towards online writing is because of the way she tested the students. She first began the experiment with a pretest to gauge their skills before blogging and then conducted a posttest following the fourteen week experiment to evaluate the effect blogging had on their writing. The results showed that it had a positive effect on both how they wrote and their attitudes toward writing. The combination of these two articles has drastically changed my opinion on media.
As Kitchakarn and her contributing writers pointed out in the study,
writing is a complicated process that involves the cognitive process, the social context, and the need for people’s routine life, it is not an easy skill for one to acquire. Writing ability is not acquired naturally; it requires the leaner to be taught and practiced in the form of the academic environment (Using Blogs to Improve Students’ Summary Writing Abilities).
I now believe that, as in all things, it is important that we keep in line with moderation. Technology cannot be allowed to become all-consuming; however, it is clear that it has had an incredibly profound impact on our daily lives, attitudes toward writing, and our approaches toward writing. It is undeniable that some of the many benefits include writing for an audience and writing for purpose and meaning. As long as we do not allow social media to dumb us down I have become a new advocate for the moderate use of technology, such as blogs, in the classroom as they have proved to be a useful tool for students around the globe.
Kitchakarn, Orachorn. “Using Blogs to Improve Students’ Summary Writing Abilities”. Turkish Online Journal of Distance Education-TOJDE. October 2012. ISSN 1302-6488 Volume:13 Number:4 Article 13. Web. 20 February 2014
Thompson, Clive. “Clive Thompson on the New Literacy”. Wired Magazine. 24 August 2009. Web. 20 February 2014