One thing we see quite a bit of are posts on social media and articles on supposedly reputable news sources that express horror over the terrible literacy and writing habits of teens and young adults. Some sources blame text messaging (LOL) while others wring their hands over the terrible decline in the educational system under either the left or the right, depending on each individual or media outlet’s political leanings.
Of course, here at Classically Educated, not only do we believe that every political party has an unfair bias against the cultural elites (which is irrelevant in this context, but we like to remind everyone of it every chance we get), but we also believe int he scientific process.
Which means that we decided to put the theory to rigorous scientific examination* to find out if all the fuss was justified.
The first thing we did was to try to track down some modern writing from young adult, maybe someone younger than 22 or 23 years of age. Fortunately, one of our editors works with a woman who fits the bill and also enjoys doing some creative writing. So we asked her for a story.
After reading it, we were pretty depressed. It needed a little polish, but, other than that, the story was not only competently written and well thought out, but it the ending was brilliant. In fact some of our editors and contributors, who are also writers wept openly and are considering giving up their word processors because if the forthcoming generations are going to write that way, we’re all pretty much doomed anyway.
More importantly, the writing was grammatically correct with not a LOL or WTF to be seen. It was even set in a culturally interesting milieu.
Of course, we still weren’t convinced, A twenty-one-year-old might not have been affected by the full brunt of the texting-centric social culture, and therefore might have outgrown it. What we really needed was something written by teens and pre-teens to figure it all out.
Fortunately, we had something to hand, a small volume of prose and verse published by a school called Belgrano Day School in Buenos Aires. This is an institution very much in the spirit of those we listed among our World’s Most Awesome Schools.
The book in question is entitled Impresiones: A Bilingual Anthology (2011) and is perfect for our purposes because it has prose and verse in both English and Spanish. It should give us a pretty good idea of whether the people immersed in the texting culture were having any literacy issues (we chose the 2011 edition because the authors are now adults, which means we’re not exposing teens to any particular scrutiny, but they were teens when this was written).
Well… while none of our editors decided they had to give up literature forever after reading this, the writing, on a sentence and grammar level, is all very good. Even in those stories written in English (remember that these are students whose first language is Spanish) were well-written, and seemed to be thought out in English (one of the easy ways to tell when a story was written by a Spanish speaker is that the sentences, while grammatically correct, use a word order that is more typical of Spanish than English–dead giveaway that the writer was translating as he wrote, not thinking the story through in English).
It might be argued that these examples are no use because they’ve been curated. The anthology was probably the best writing of the year at that particular school, and the woman’s story was an outlier: written by someone who is set on becoming a writer.
That’s true, of course, but it doesn’t really matter. You see, it’s always been like that. Even twenty or fifty years ago, most people wrote like a drunk chimpanzee. The joke above describes the literary efforts of any given 99% of the population in whichever era you choose to name. But the fact that the good ones are still good puts any idea that texting obsessively is killing the language.
Which makes sense if you think about it. There’s a good analogy for this which we don’t remember the source for (if it was you, drop us a comment and well give due credit): Text messaging is like playing catch. It’s not a rigorous exercise in perfection, but it can’t do the person doing it any harm; after all, it’s still writing, and not everything is ROFL.
So everyone can stop panicking and go back to your political arguments. We, by the way, are trying to clone Tiberius. Now THAT was a leader (you can yell at us in the comments, that’s what they’re for).
*All right, we didn’t do a rigorous scientific examination. We looked at a couple of isolated anecdotic cases. So sue us.