Ok, so to follow up on my outage-induced last entry, I searched for information regarding the effects of text-messaging and instant-messaging on other cultures. I came across an article in a UK educational website. The article, written in 2004, backs up the research I have found regarding the effects of text-messaging and instant-messaging on America’s school-aged children.
The article did mention an aspect of the findings that I had not previously come across. There were two groups of students sampled, one which used text-messaging frequently and one which did not use it at all. Both groups performed nearly the same on a series of written tests, with each group making grammatical and spelling errors. The one significant difference researchers found was that, when asked to describe a picture or event, the group of “texters” wrote much less than the group of non-“texters.”
Of course this begs the question, what do we make of this?
First, based on other research I have found, I think it is reasonable to suspect that the group of texters studied use that form of media to communicate far more than they do any other media. While they may be forced to write a greater number of words in formal settings, the number of writing occasions is, I’m sure, skewed far more toward the informal text-message writing side of the equation. The number of times a person prepares himself mentally to write in a certain style will, I think, have a far more significant impact on his “default” style of writing in any given situation in which he is given no specific guidelines.
Consider the section from the book How People Learn entitled “Examples of Effects of Instruction on Brain Development.” It is clear that instruction has an effect on how the brain is organized. If, then, we view each time a person has an occasion for writing as an instructional opportunity, increased interactions with text-messaging and instant-messaging by students can reorganize the language portions of the brain in a way that induces people to write in the abbreviated form of those media. When a person sits down (or stands up) and sends a text-message or instant message, there are clear guidelines. If there are too many characters, the space runs out. If more text messages are sent, the sender will have to spend more money. If too many words are written in a given IM, it detracts from the “instant” nature for which people, especially younger people, yearn. Like any good rubric or instructional activity, there are specific guidelines and outcomes – both good and bad – for the “students.” This is learning.
Is there a solution to this “problem”? Can it be as simple as giving students shorter, more formal occasions for writing more? Perhaps. If nothing else, however, it is time for linguists and the crusading defenders of the language to lay down their grammatical swords and shields and embrace increased communication capabilities as a way to grow the language rather than shun these technologies for fear that they can somehow irreparably damage what has taken shape over thousands of years of evolution.