Friday, April 25, 2008

Writing, technology, and teenagers

Writing, Technology and Teens, a report from the Pew Internet and American Life Project, is in the news today, in reports that emphasize teenagers' use of "informal elements" such as emoticons and messaging shorthand in their schoolwork. (The sky is falling.) I liked reading these student comments though, on page 16 of the report:

I like handwriting. I don't know, I feel more organized writing by hand especially with outlines and drafts and stuff.

I find it hard to think creatively when I am typing so I like to handwrite everything then I put it on the computer.

I type so much faster than I write. But if I want to make a paper much better I have to type it out first, then hand write in the changes, then type the good copy. And it makes it easier to think things through if I can handwrite it. And I think my worst work is when I just type it and don't handwrite it.
I'd want to see greater care with punctuation in these statements (gathered, it seems, in focus groups), but I'm cheered to see these young writers thinking about the ways their tools affect their work.

More: 93% of teenagers surveyed report doing writing out of school. 72% of teenagers usually do personal writing by hand.

A general Pew concern is that teenagers do not regard instant messaging and e-mailing as what the report calls "real writing":
The act of exchanging e-mails, instant messages, texts, and social network posts is communication that carries the same weight to teens as phone calls and between-class hallway greetings.
The kids seem to be thinking clearly here. "Real writing" for them would be analog: on paper, in an institutional context, writing that gets a grade or seeks access to an opportunity (a college-application essay, for instance). Texting a friend or family member is a different proposition. U shd c soma my txt messgs to my kids.

When the conventions of "real writing" and the conventions of digital informality collide, the result is a mess, as in e-mails to professors that say
hey i mnissed class cd you mail me the homework thanks
Which is why I wrote How to e-mail a professor. As this college semester nears its end, that post accounts for 20% of recent visits to Orange Crate Art. That's also cheering news, a sign that many students have come to understand that the conventions of "real writing" have analog and digital lives.

Some related posts
"[I]n my own hand, in my own notebook" (Robert Fitzgerald)
On handwriting and typing (W.H. Auden)
Writing by hand

comments: 2

JuliaR said...

I love the idea of real writing and have the fountain pens and stationery to prove it. However, some of my best writing (spontaneous but clear and witty) emerges when I am dashing off emails to close friends and family. I also get a cramp in the ring finger of my hand when I write for too long. I think I have to discipline myself more to write thoughts down as I have them and not wait to get to a computer. By then the thoughts have often dissipated.

Thanks for making me think about this!

Michael Leddy said...

Hi Julia. Index cards, à la Anne Lamott, are good.

I know exactly what you mean — writing for someone can make all sorts of things happen. I think that's one reason is used to find journal-keeping unsatisfying — no one to write for (except, I know, my future self).