Not-so-evil internets: making kids better writers

Techdirt: Even More Research: Technology Is Making Kids Better Writers, Not Worse

Every few months or so, we read about some freaked out reporter/columnist/pundit/politician complaining about how the internet and texting are destroying kids’ ability to write. Yet, pretty much every study on the subject has found the opposite to be true. Study after study after study after study after study have all found that kids today are better writers than in the past.

Clive Thompson writes about even more research on the subject, talking to a professor who suggests that, rather than “the death of writing” this is a renaissance:

“I think we’re in the midst of a literacy revolution the likes of which we haven’t seen since Greek civilization.”

The studies indicate that because everyone is doing so much more writing in these computerised days, people generally are getting better at it (the next time you read some poor writing online, remember that without the internet those people probably wouldn’t be reading recreationally, let alone writing). Not just that, kids who grow up doing it are even better at judging the different audiences for different communication styles and adjusting their writing to suit the perceived audience (aka the rhetorical skill of kairos).

There is an associated philosophical shift – more and more people are writing for an audience rather than writing as simple correspondents to the people they are engaging in discussion/debate – they know that many more people will read their words than just those directly involved. Indeed, one study reports that some college students are far less enthusiastic about class writing assignments because only the teacher will see the work.

Many commentors on the Techdirt post mention that their writing may have improved, but their penmanship has badly deteriorated since they switched to computers. I know that I can’t handwrite for very long any more without getting hand cramps, and I used to be one of those people that wrote pages and pages for essays in exams. Does anybody here still do lots of handwriting?

crossposted at Larvatus Prodeo

Categories: culture wars, education, language, Life, technology


10 replies

  1. I still do a fair bit of handwriting at work, and am wondering if my carpal tunnel syndrome is the result of that. But, deep in my heart of hearts, I suspect that actually the time spent with my wrists folded holding a book is probably more the reason.

  2. Oh yes, I do a lot of off-blog writing (quite apart from my job which is typing transcripts of audio). I generally keep a notepad with me to pen ideas and rough drafts down, sometimes for blog posts, but sometimes for poems or something else entirely.
    I think that general finding makes sense; texting by phone, messaging on the net, and writing emails and blog comments gives people a lot of opportunity to practice writing skills, and, of course, ‘practice makes perfect’.

  3. I suspect this “phenomenon” is actually one of writing-minded people measuring their ideal against reality. Before, they were isolated enough that their ideal of “good writing” could hold true; now, writing is far more visible and accessible. But the thing is, those same people writing poorly now were writing just as poorly (or not at all, as you point out) before; they were just walled-off from the upper levels of society.
    So what these people are doing is comparing “before” (my ideal which before I had so little exposure to the rest of the world as to be able to maintain that it is reality) against “after” (oh my God, not everyone is a highly-educated scholarly-minded citizen like me!).

  4. Without the internet (and especially instant messaging), I’d still be a lousy typist, too.

  5. I do a lot of writing for work but my handwriting is so poor it is regularly mistaken for a strange form of shorthand.
    I’m consistently surprised to find some people can’t touch type. Even people who write for a living. Somehow I just expected it was common knowledge, but it isn’t.

  6. If by touchtype you mean do it properly with fingers on the correct keys, definitely not. If you mean type with two fingers while not looking at the keyboard, then yes.
    At my school they only taught typing at school to the kids who were not planning on going to university, basically. It sort of fell into the same category as textiles (sewing), what we referred to as “veggie maths” (because it was a veg, as in relaxing), elective PE, and home economics. If you wanted to finish school but had no intention of going to university, those were the four subjects you did (along with compulsary English) because they were the least academic work and the easiest to pass.
    They called typing “computer studies” but it wasn’t. It was learning to touch type.

  7. I often draft in longhand, usually with a fountain pen. There’s something about the pace that works well for me. I find that I have more control over the movement of a fountain pen, so my hand gets less tired.
    I used to write screeds and screeds for exams – I would fill a 20-page answer book and then a ten page supplementary book in the space of three hours. I had all sorts of cramp-mitigation techniques – microbreaks, stretches, swapping from ball point to felt tip to fountain pen between essays, so that my hand action would change slightly. But I would walk out with a badly cramped hand.

  8. I love drafting and outlining by hand, but if I’m handwriting too fast, I’m prone to making the same typos as I might do with the computer (funny thing eh). I find during exams I put more effort into not holding the pen too tightly than filling the page.

  9. Ahaha oh dear, this just makes me think of an acquaintance of mine saying she went into her daughter’s school and had a teacher inform her they “encourage ‘creative’ spelling”.
    I handwrite surprising amount, but not at a stretch. I generally fill about 3 A4 pages with scrawling of one kind or another over the course of a day at work, most of it note-taking on the phone. My first job was about twice that sometimes, because it was all day on the phone.

  10. I had a complex form to fill out the other day. I printed it and filled it out longhand, intending to slip it under someone’s door, then left the f*cker on my desk at work. It need to reach someone by Monday morning, so last night I opened the word doc at home and filled it out digitally. Much, much easier. My brain flowed better and I found it a doddle.
    Apparently I can now write more easily on the screen than on paper.

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