November CommQuote

Clive Thompson reports on the Stanford Study of Writing headed by writing and rhetoric professor Andrea Lunsford who collected student writing samples from 2001 to 2006–emails, blog entries, class assignments, journal entries, formal essays and i-chats–and came to the conclusion that writing among young people is alive and well, in fact, she thinks we are in the midst of a literacy revolution “the likes of which we haven’t seen since Greek civilization.” Describes Thompson, writing for Wired Magazine:

The first thing she found is that young people today write far more than any generation before them. That’s so much socializing takes place online, and it almost always involves text. Of all the writing that the Stanford students did, a stunning 38 percent of it took place out of the classroom-life writing, as Lunsford calls it. Those Twitter updates and lists of 25 things about yourself add up. It’s almost hard to remember how big a paradigm shift this is. Before the Internet came along, most Americans never wrote anything, ever that wasn’t a school assignment. Unless they got a job that required producing text (like in law, advertising, or media), they’d leave school and virtually never construct a paragraph again.

But is this explosion of prose good, on a technical level? Yes. Lunsford’s team found that the student’s were remarkably adept at what rhetoricians call kairos–assessing their audience and adapting their tone and technique to best get their point across. The modern world of online writing, particularly in chat and on discussion threads, is conversational and public, which makes it closer to the Greek tradition of argument than the asynchronous letter and essay writing of 50 years ago.

…It’s also becoming clear that online media are pushing literacy into cool directions. The brevity of texting and status updating teaches young people to deploy haiku-like concision. At the same time, the proliferation of new forms of online pop-cultural exegesis–from sprawling TV-show recaps to 15, 000-word videogame walkthroughs–has given them a chance to write enormously long an complex pieces of prose, often while working collaboratively with others. –Wired Magazine, Sept 2009, p. 48

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