In a recent rant, entitled Neo-Illiteracy, Joe Harris launches a full blown knee-jerk assault on the degeneration of the cultural forms that he prizes so much. Here is a sample:
- When the hell did Dickens or Hemingway ever write in pidgin English? As a conscientious literary mind, I gasped in horror upon cracking the “LOL” code. Freshly evolved gray matter reverts to ooze. Mark Twain wants to see us all in Hell. There are neither “Xs” nor “Os” in “hugs and kisses.” Both forms of human contact are too much to bear, yet not enough to get me there. How does an intellectual pig write, “go die somewhere.”
He is, of course, alluring to the simplification that emerged as part of the text messaging phenomenon. But this contemporary critique of modern language is not uncommon, nor is it new. People were — and still are — apt to blame television for people getting stupider, just as Plato had Socrates lament that literacy would limit our mental faculties.
Contrary to this vision of despair, however, there is a great deal of potential in this generation of network dwellers. What we now see emerging is not the end of civilization, but the triumph of the new literary that is by and for the people. A writing that develops form the ground up without the need to be imposed from above. A skill that children feel compelled to learn because they see it in constant use.
For instance, my nephew, who is only in 4th grade approaches the challenge of reading with enthusiasm because he knows that I won't help him to surf the net for whatever it is he wants - be it games, cheat codes or funny pictures. He understands from observation that knowing how to read is crucial, because it is so necessary to getting anything done.