Immersed in writing more than any previous generation; with text messages, forums, chat, and multiplayer video games, rudimentary reading and writing is becoming the minimum standard for having fun and engaging with friends. Such continuous exposure and practice can only make for better readers and writers.
And yet there is no shortage of reductionist pessimists who seem to believe that such competence will remain at the entry level. To quote Harris again:
- We use money and technology when brainpower trumps them both. Thought is bypassed with acronyms and teenage girl-esque slang. Even a dog's bark is a language. Is alpha grunting the next hot fashion?
Contrary to the hyperbole, English has a long and colourful history of incorporating slang and onomatopoeia. In fact, the Macquarie Dictionary's latest Word of the Year is 'Toxic Debt', which just goes to show how language adapts to serve its context. The emphasis on shorthand in chat and messaging, which is so often decried, neglects the fact that the longer and deeper craft of traditional letter writing was necessitated by an infrequent postal service.
Far from the allegations that modern technology shall bring about a breakdown and disintegration of grammatical coherence; the truth is a bit more subtle. After all, in a literacy centered world the inability to write coherently is equivalent to having a speech impediment and tends to produce the same kind of alienation. And this social pressure doesn't just come from senior netizens like myself - I have also seen teenagers apply it to their friends on a regular basis.
More to the point, chat and SMS are not the only way that young people express themselves. Online forums and sites like BlogCritics provide young writers like myself an opportunity to be read and responded to without having to rely on the sugarcoating of our friends, family or neighbors. In the former especially, there are presently multitudes of young people honing their literary craft by their own volition. And with more time for literary practice than schools could ever provide, we may see a renaissance-like boom in the next 10-20 years.