Tuesday, June 12, 2007

A Writer Gets Veryveryvery Subversive

While doing my daily round of blogger-jogging, I came across a short lament about The State of Things - or perhaps the lament was actually about The Lowering of Standards. Personally, I thought it sounded like a variation on The Problem With Kids Today.

The woe-and-gnashing-of-teeth was over the idea that - thanks to the internet, video games, television, etc. - society as a whole has a poor attention span and vocabulary. The implication is that we've been dumbed down relative to some golden yesteryear.

I think this is a case of applying outdated (if only by a few decades) standards to a new world. Humans are humans; we have not been dumbed down. We're just smart about different things today.

Given the popularity of blogs, chat forums and interactive gaming, the current generation is more inclined to communicate via the written word than their parents were, and probably even more than their grandparents were, given that email and text-messaging are so much faster than posting a letter.

Does this generation (of which, by the way, I am far too cranky and unsupple to be considered a member anymore) communicate at a lower level than previous generations? Definitely. But they do more of it, so what's so surprising about that? Their focus is on accurate communication and the subtle art of virtual socialising, rather than strong vocabulary and the ability to write a grammatical sentence.

Although I cringe to see grown men and women who never capitalise anything (Don, from work, I am lookin' at you), I don't think this is a sign that society is crumbling about our ears. It isn't fair to criticise the young for doing what makes sense in today's world. Face it: for email and internet chatting, emoticons are as important as punctuation.

Sure, we're losing something - liek lettrs n stuff, ppl - but this is because the world has gained something else. Every day, ordinary people build tight-knit and personal communities that span the entire planet. How beautiful! The ease and speed of informal communication is what made this possible.

I love words, and I want society to be properly literate, but for a lot of very intelligent and productive people, taking the time to learn to write perfect English is impractical and unnecessary.

If what I just said left you sputtering, consider this:

There is an algorithm for working out a square root by hand, on paper. Do you know how to do it?

No? So why aren't you willing to spend half an hour to learn this very basic math skill?

Perhaps because - for you - it's impractical and unnecessary?

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