Saturday, April 26, 2008

BPN 1080 Texting and writing

The Pew Internet and American Life Project has touched again on an interesting subject: the state of writing among teens. It is seldom that people receive a handwritten letter from me anymore. Recently I saw a letter I wrote in 1968. I still wrote by hand and it could be read by a third party, but the typing machine had taken over the official letter writing (no PC did not exist at that time, stupid). In the eighties the PC overtook my writing and these days I only take notes by shorthand and even this is changing with the writing program on the e-book. What does the cyber generation from after 1988 do; do they write or use the PC. In the school situation it must be even more complicated. Whenever you give them an assignment to write about a subject, they most likely copy the Wikipedia empty and start editing, so that the teacher will not recognised the copy work. But doing an assignment by longhand must be out of fashion, I guess, in The Netherlands and certainly in the US.

So the Pew Internet & American Life Project and the National Commission on Writing organised a national phone survey of 700 youth, ages 12-17 years, and their parents in mid-November; it has a margin of error of plus or minus 5 percentage points. The report also contains findings from eight focus groups in four U.S. cities conducted in the summer of 2007.

Pew discovered an interesting paradox: while teens are heavily embedded in a tech-rich world and craft a significant amount of electronic text, they see a fundamental distinction between their electronic social communications and the more formal writing they do for school or for personal reasons.
- 87 pct of youth ages 12-17 engage at least occasionally in some form of electronic personal communication, which includes text messaging, sending email or instant messages, or posting comments on social networking sites.
- 60 pct of teens do not think of these electronic texts as "writing."

Teens are utilitarian in their approach to technology and writing, using both computers and longhand depending on circumstances. Their use of computers for school and personal writing is often tied to the convenience of being able to edit easily. And while they do not think their use of computers or their text-based communications with friends influences their formal writing, many do admit that the informal styles that characterize their e-communications do occasionally bleed into their schoolwork.

- 57 pct of teens say they revise and edit more when they write using a computer.
- 63 pct of teens say using computers to write makes no difference in the quality of the writing they produce.
- 73 pct of teens say their personal electronic Communications (email, IM, text messaging) have no impact on the writing they do for school, and 77 pct said they have no impact on the writing they do for themselves.
- 64 pct of teens admit that they incorporate, often accidentally, at least some informal writing styles used in personal electronic communication into their writing for school. (Some 25 pct have used emoticons in their school writing; 50 pct have used informal punctuation and grammar; 38 pct have used text shortcuts such as "LOL" meaning "laugh out loud.")

In the Netherlands we see a paradigm shift from the official civilised Netherlands’ language to shortlands, shortening of the writing of the Dutch language, incorporating speech. It has become MSN and texting language. Shorthand was used in the past in telegram (when did you send for the last time), headlines, diary and advertisements. Of course it is to save space, money and time. But for children 12 to 17 years it is also part of their cool identity and showing off of their Multi-linguistic skills...

All of this matters more than ever because teenagers and their parents uniformly believe that good writing is a bedrock for future success. Eight in ten parents believe that good writing skills are more important now than they were 20 years ago, and 86 pct of teens believe that good writing ability is an important component of guaranteeing success later in life.

I look very sceptical at these last figures. It looks more political correct than the importance of writing in later life. And I can not believe that good writing skills (hopefully is meant good handwriting) are more important than 20 years ago. I see this as a projection of parents through a rear mirror, as most of those parents write on computers today.

The results on writing are interesting, but I would be more interested (and most likely more worried) about the results of a survey on reading. Do children between 12 and 17 years still read newspapers, books and magazines? Perhaps it is not just reading and writing habits that should be surveyed, but their full daily patterns should be recorded in time and in content. I wonder how the study on teen appeal by Christina Handford at Staffordshire University is coming along.

Blog Posting Number: 1080

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