Monday, July 30, 2007

The Decline in Literacy

The country just keeps on going to the dogs, but fortunately it never seems to quite get there.

Perhaps the ancient Romans grumbled about the declining standards in literacy among the young. And the Greeks, as well. And everyone before them, back to the dawn of writing. Of course, the further back you go, the smaller the part of the population the question would apply to, but I bet people grumbled about the declining standards of literacy within that social group.

Ah, but it's worse now! Young people today, they don't know how to write a proper sentence. And they spell funetickly. And their music - ! Oops, sorry, that's a different post.

I don't say such things myself, despite being very much, er, not-young, and I find myself snapping at other not-youngsters who do say such things. The kids are al(l )right, I tell them. Why, I say, I remember that when I was a lad, most of my acquaintances couldn't write worth a damn. I'm not convinced that the percentage of serious, intelligent young people who can speak and write well is any smaller now than it was then. Let's face it: Most people, in every generation, don't give a damn about proper English usage, and most of them have always thought that the minority of us who do care are creepy weirdos.

But let's assume, for the sake of argument, that literacy really is declining and that communication in our society is suddenly and rapidly becoming based on video and sound and funetickly spelled, icon-filled text messaging, :). All that really means is that we're returning to our natural social and intellectual roots.

Reading and writing are fairly recent innovations in human history, and their widespread use is much more recent. Surely there were always people who enjoyed them for their own sake, but their adoption was due mostly to necessity - a way of compiling, communicating, and storing lists and laws and contracts and royal orders. Verbal communication and storage by means of memorization became impractical once societies grew past a certain size, geographic extent, and degree of social organization. But now, thanks to technology, those old ways are once again practical even in a highly complex society spread across the surface of the world.

Marshall McLuhan talked about the global village and the ways in which the medium changed the nature of the message. We've pretty much reached the global village part. I'm not convinced that the medium is the message. Rather, I think that the old message has reemerged, not so much changed by the nature of the (new) media but enriched by it. We're moving back to being a village in which people communicate not with the writing and reading most of them always secretly, or not so secretly, hated, but instead with sight and sound, spoken words and playacting. It's enriched, for example, because instead of drawing a scene on a cave wall to show others, you can take a picture of it with your cell phone camera and send it to your zillion online friends electronically.

I do hope that great numbers of us creepy weirdos who love writing and reading hang around, though. And even though the kids are al(l )right, their music still sucks.


Oscar1986 said...

Sweet blog, love it:) interesting.
If you get a chance check out my Ancient worldz blog.
Love to hear any feedback, comments or suggestions

David said...


Those are impressive models on your blog.

How do you manage to keep up with multiple blogs? This one, all by itself, is plenty for me. As it is, I often neglect it.

Lahdeedah said...

Truthfully, I don't think literacy is on the decline. Young kids 2day may write funetikuhly (er um whutevuh on that sp) but at least they R writing! I mean, the wordz may change, but still, it's fine, lol, I mean, it could be worse, and yeah, I H8TE the new music, too. So the Net really has given us a larger medium with which to write down our words, no matter how we spell them. Yeah video usage is up, but typing and posting is still ezier for some of us.

Web 2.0 for the winxor.

This post roxxors.

David said...

lahdeedah, you are really in tune with the zeitgeist. I'm impressed!

KJWWilyums said...

I think you're partially right! My main focus these days is to get and keep people reading, writing and speaking as closely to the logical dictates of this living, slithering, sparkling language as possible.
That may mean discovering and embracing the changes that take place everyday. The younger folks are really our guerillas on the ground, creating crap, but cutting through the crap, too.
As the homeys say: "Don't hate the playas, hate the game!"

David said...


Wot? Only partially? :)

Emotionally and viscerally, it's hard to accept radical language changes, even though one knows intellectually that that's why we no longer speak caveman. And I do think it gets harder with age, as all changes around one get harder to accept with age.

It would help if there were an official board that ruled on what changes in English were acceptable and what ones weren't. And if that board consisted of me.

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