The Effects of Text Messaging on Literacy
With the revolutionary new forms of communication that technology has introduced comes a debate on what effect these new digital mediums have on literacy. Text messaging is quickly becoming a primary form of communication for many people around the world, yet the research behind the rhetorical situation of text messaging is very limited. The mainstream media claims that the short hand and abbreviated characteristics of text messaging are making children lazy, not forcing them to use the proper grammar and spelling that they learn in school. The resulting opinion is that text messaging is to blame for low literacy rates of students. Yet as more scholarly researcher is done on text messaging as well as other digital literacies such as IM, emails, and blogs, they are discovering that the public opinion and mainstream media reports are not in line with the true interactions of children with new technologies and how it is changing the face of literacy.
The media tends to take a binary approach to new technologies, stating that they are either completely or good or completely bad for the future of our society. They see text messaging as a breakdown of the literacy of the youth. Journalist John Sutherland has been quoted as saying that text messaging is “thin and unimaginative…mask[ing] dyslexia, poor spelling and mental laziness…[and] penmanship for illiterates” (Crystal, 2008, 77). Many news reports use examples of students using “textspeak” (a term coined by David Crystal) in classroom essays and standardized tests. Most of these stories are exaggerated and facts are not correct. Yet most of the public use media outlets as a basis for their own opinion on social issues like technology and literacy. Student literacy is constantly under scrutiny. The current wave of fears over illiteracy points fingers at emerging technologies such as text messaging and IMing as a cause of this issue. Yet most people do not see the potential that these new technologies have in developing new digital literacies. Many scholars are looking more critically at the media reports and public opinion on these issues and discovering that text messaging could in fact expand a student’s critical learning skills (Thurlow, 2006; Crystal, 2008; Plester, Wood, and Bell, 2008). In order for this idea to be accepted, a new definition of literacy must be considered (Albers and Harste, 2007; Braun, 2007; Doering, Beach, and O’Brien, 2007).
Crispin Thurlow has done an extensive study on what media outlets are reporting about text messaging, noting the exaggerated attitude and pessimistic view of text messaging that it paints for the population (Thurlow, 2006). One common misconception of text messaging is that it breaks so far from standard English to illicit a new type of language. Yet in another study done by Thurlow (2003), he looked at 500 text messages of college freshman and his results showed that there was no remarkable break from conventional English used and that most characteristics of text messages are not in line with Waters 1
what the media paints for the public. David Crystal also looks at the linguistic characteristics of text messages of younger teens and concludes that there are no indecipherable breaks from Standard English. He further notes that in order for children to effectively use “textspeak”, they must have a critical understanding of the uses and characteristics of Standard English, a skill that should be a focus of any English class (Crystal 2008).
There is a more extensive group of research done on digital literacies and new technologies in the classroom, which text messaging falls under. Many new media studies reports discuss the importance of introducing new technologies into the classroom, integrating technologies that students use outside of school on a daily basis into a pedagogy that helps the students look more critically at communication, language, and networks (Albers and Harste,...
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