This I Believe

Christopher - Atlanta, Georgia
Entered on December 4, 2007
Age Group: 18 - 30

Communication in this age seems easier than it was years ago. It has evolved from the written, mailed letter to the forward and reply nature of email to the blocking nature of instant messaging to the thumb-keyboard-oriented text messaging system. I believe that the devolution of literacy came with the evolution of technology and the interface.

A letter has a highly variable interface in that one can use computer paper or lined paper, using a pen or a red orange crayon. Especially now that technology has encompassed the world, receiving a letter is a joy. I recently wrote a letter to my best friend who goes to Brigham Young and felt a joy just writing the letter. When I was reading it over, I noticed a few things; parts of the letter where I was excited retelling my experiences at Georgia Tech were difficult to read due to the rushed nature of my handwriting. The tone of the letter was evident in my handwriting. Most importantly, although I was excited, I kept an excellent sense of grammar, even throwing in a semicolon and a colon. The interface allows enough time for thought, so writing, to me, preserves literacy.

Now then, email is caught between the traditional letter-writing system and the instant-messaging system. On one hand, email can be personalized with a limited selection of fonts and style, seemingly following the trend of traditional letter writing. However, it does not allow as much time to check over the message for grammar since the response is usually desired as soon as possible. With a letter, the interface is physical and sensory; an old girlfriend of mine once sent me a card that she sprayed with her perfume. An email is only ones and zeroes stored in a computer. It loses some semblance of being real, so rules are not as enforced. Thus, Literacy weakens slightly.

Instant messaging’s effect on literacy has been largely negative. After looking through archives, I found a few phrases that should prove my point: “Idc u choose”, “’sorry l”, “…I meant to say Im sry”, “ol”, “nuthin really” and “u”. I am sorry; although I am a teenager, I do not understand what “Idc” is. Is it a misspelling or an acronym? Its user interface is also limited in a need for quick responses, allowing even less time to proofread the message than email. With speed does not come accuracy, and as it becomes easier to type a few letters and make them represent words, literacy decreases.

So then, how can society restore literacy to the nation? My first thought is to encourage proper grammar throughout the schooling period; I learned grammar in middle school and in ninth grade, four years ago. If we had a two-year system in which grammar is taught in the sixth, eighth, tenth and twelfth grades, then I suspect literacy throughout the nation would increase. I’ve said that technology brought down grammar, so the proper way to fix that is to bring down technology until grammar improves.