Twitter and Digital Literacy

The digital age has ushered new forms of communication we have yet to fully explore.  We can text, tweet, or blog from just about anywhere to nearly anyone.  Nearly every news outlet, from local papers and stations up to the New York Times and CNN, has a Twitter account.  This pervasive technology has led to a generation of people who are almost constantly reading or writing.  They may not be  producing any epic works (yet), but the net generation are probably the most prolific writers yet.

Educators worry that students wont be able to construct grammatically correct sentences.  They fear we will be a society doomed to clipped incomprehensible netspeak.  Joanne Jacobs published a piece recently on writing instruction in writing classes.  The articles Jacobs cited point to the lack of focus grammar, style, clarity, and argument in teaching writing.  Jacobs concludes by saying the following:

The first step in good writing is to figure out what you want to say. But it’s not the only step. I worry about the journal fad, which encourages students to practice writing to themselves but doesn’t teach them how to communicate with other people.

What Jacobs and many contemporaries seem to miss is that the next two generations have been learning those skills all along, digitally.  In this month’s Wired, Clive Thompson asks how many Americans would compose a paragraph on a daily basis.  Unless you were an educator, lawyer, or ad guru it wasn’t likely you’d construct a paragraph after you left school, let alone each day.  Think about the sheer volume of writing most of us do weekly.  We write reviews of food, movies, books, products, and other endless subjects.  We let the world into our daily lives with online journals.  We blog political opinions.  We construct vast video game walkthroughs.  Each practice on forming opinions, giving clear instruction, or honing our voice.

Our writings are also constructed with a certain audience in mind.  The group that reads a Harry Potter fan fiction may not necessarily be the same that reads Politico.  Online authors, generally, understand this.  I am not about to blog with a Kerouac  style beat to my writing.  As interesting as that may be to a few, readers of this type of blog just do not want to read that.

Twitter forces a writer to get their point across quickly and clearly.  You have a minuscule amount characters to say it and you had better do it fast.  Tweeters write in short bursts and that’s all readers are expecting.  It takes practices to make a clear concise thought on Twitter.  I can’t even tell you how many times I had to reword and chop a thought to make it fit.  That is invaluable practice for any writer.

” I think we are in the midst of a literacy revolution the likes of which we haven’t seen since Greek civilization”, says Andrea Lunsford, a professor of writing and rhetoric at Stanford.  Digital writing should be embraced, not shunned.  A whole generation is amassing a wealth of experience in writing that is being ignored and undervalued.  A teacher’s hope is that they will inspire their students to explore the world they live in.  It is time that educators ventured into the world of their students and evolved to the next level.

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One Response

  1. I’m hot and cold on social media. There are clear advantages to tools like Twitter, which are quick and to the point. Tweet ups, and directing people to a longer post (blogs, magazines, newspaper) are two that come quickly to mind.

    Here’s what I have an issue with, however. I think that far too much of our communication is being truncated, and dare I say it, “dumbed down.”

    As my guitar teacher used to tell me, “you’ve got to learn the rules before you can break them.” If you ever heard me play guitar, you’d know I didn’t heed his advice.

    While communicating clearly and concisely is important, I fear that technology is making it too easy for an entire generation to forego the rules and not learn rudimentary skills.

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