Just few decades ago, computer was a luxury and could only be afforded by businesses or only high income groups. But the technological progress has been so tremendous that far more computing power now fits in the palm of our hands than what would reside in workstations occupying entire rooms. It may not be a stretch to claim that internet has triggered the industrial revolution of the 21st century and internet revolution might not have been possible without advancements in computing technologies. Computing technologies has affected almost every aspect of our personal and professional lives including our reading and writing habits.
Computer and internet has revolutionized access to information and communication as many predicted. But even the greatest benefits may have unintended consequences and one of the outcomes of information overload and instant communication has been our decreasing attention spans. In other words, we strive to find what we want quickly and if we come across something, it has to be short and it has to do an effective job of gaining our attention. Thus, anything that looks like a lot of information or is difficult to browse through may be ignored by most of the readers. This reality is not lost on The New Yorker editor Michael Agger who sarcastically points out at quite the beginning in his article, “I’m probably forcing you to scroll at this point. Losing some incredible percentage of readers. Bye. Have fun on Facebook.” (Agger, 2008). Agger mentions usability expert Jakob Nielsen’s ideas as well as points out at least one study that confirms our attention spans have been declining due to internet. It is not difficult to understand the implications of the article because readers have access to greater number of information sources than ever and as a result, they strive for convenience and efficient use of time.
One of the positive outcomes of computer and internet on students has been improved writing skills. Like any craft, improving writing skills also requires practice and thanks to new communication technologies such as social media, students write a lot more now than they used to be in the pre-internet days when most of the writing was either due to academic or professional obligations. Now students engage in a significant amount of writing for personal reasons or ‘life writing’ in the words of Stanford University’s Andrea Lunsford. Lunsford also found that students do not only engage in significantly more writing activities but they have also improved in assessing their audience as well as separating more relevant information from less relevant information. Lunsford also claims that the audience for writers today is much broader which also inspires them to write more. Lunsford implies that writing skills is not all about technical skills but other factors are also involved and internet has been helping students become really good at identifying their audience characteristics and needs (Thompson, 2009).
Another positive impact of the computing technology and internet has been that it is encouraging young people to express themselves and be more active in the political and social issues area. As Lunsford found out, students initially felt they were not writing for any audience, thus, had little incentive to express themselves but internet has provided them with huge audience which encourages them to speak in writing on blogs and social media etc. Internet has revolutionized access to information and as a result, students are more aware of what’s going on in the world. This rising levels of awareness motivates individuals like Mark Otuteye to want to do something to improve the world. Lunsford doesn’t deny that too much writing doesn’t always improve writing skills especially if the nature of the writing is informal and she observes that unlike the past when wrong spellings was the most common issue, today one of the major shortcomings in students’ writing is using wrong words (Haven, 2009).
But not all effects of computing advancements and internet have been positive. When texting was a relatively new phenomenon in 2002, some observers like University College, London Professor John Sutherland became concerned it was leading to poor written communication skills such as translation of proper words into shortened codes. Different factors that have contributed towards the popularity of texting are laziness, poor spelling skills, and dyslexia (Sutherland, 2002). Thus, internet might have made communication easier and faster but it has also increased the pressure on us to become even more efficient at written communication. This is because we are continuously connected to many more people. This shortened version of written communication might also have borne out of young people’s desires to maintain their privacy from the elders who are not always well-versed in texting language.
Computing technologies and internet have lived up to their expectations in improving access to information as well as communication but they have also impacted the way we read and write. Some of these effects have been positive while others have not been quite desirable. Students are writing more than ever and they are becoming better at understanding their audience as well as their respective needs. They are more motivated to write because internet provides them with a wider audience. But writing, especially informal writing, has created undesirable outcomes as well such as use of shortened spellings and wrong words.
- Agger, M. (2008, June 13). Lazy Eyes. Retrieved March 9, 2014, from http://www.slate.com
- Haven, C. (2009, October 12). The New Literacy: Stanford study finds richness and complexity in students’ writing. Retrieved March 9, 2014, from http://news.stanford.edu
- Sutherland, J. (2002, November 10). Cn u txt? Retrieved March 9, 2014, from http://www.theguardian.com
- Thompson, C. (2009, August 25). Clive Thompson on the New Literacy. Retrieved March 9, 2014, from http://www.wired.com/