Why use five words when you can use one? It's the secret to good texting and tweeting – and to good writing.
Call me a contrarian, but I think texting and tweeting improve language skills. Teens don't say "came to the realization that" or "utilized" in a Facebook post, a text, or a tweet. They say "realized" or "used." Sure, they may take some artistic license when it comes to spelling. But they write tight. Yay!
"I agree that social media can help kids learn to write short, snappy sentences," she says. "Better to KISS (Keep It Short and Simple) than to KILL (Keep It Long and Laborious)! KISSing is a useful skill for later in life, too. Even in the dusty halls of academe, for examine, PhD students are now being encouraged to take part in 'two minute dissertation' competitions. If you can't convey the importance of your research project succinctly and persuasively in a two-minute sound bite, how can you ever hope to write a winning grant application?"
Yet she can see the other side, too. As Nicholas Carr argues in The Shadows: What the Internet is Doing to Our Brains, she says, "Certain kinds of thought require time, space, and attention, all of which are in short supply on social media sites."
Parents should encourage their kids to "read, read, read," says Helen, a professor of higher education at the University of Auckland who earned her PhD in English from Princeton. "Not just blogs and Facebook! If they devote time every week to reading challenging books full of rich language and complex characters, they will learn to think deeply and to write with grace and style – whether in their tweets or in their college essays." (To see whether your writing is "lean," flabby," or in "heart attack territory," paste a 100- to 1,000-word sample of your prose into Helen's free online "writer's diet" test.)
Meanwhile, I asked my teens and husband for their take on the short social-media post.
"It can make you creatively condense," says my husband. "To do it well is like writing a haiku."
My 15-year-old daughter is skeptical about whether social media is a boon to the English language. "It makes you write incorrectly," she says. "No one cares what grammar or spelling you use." Posters can't be bothered to add the "h" to "wats up" or "waz up." And they spell "where" as "were." Yikes.
I tell her I'm thrilled that no one uses an "ize" word like "utilize" or "prioritize" in social-media posts. She is less enthusiastic. "I don't think it's necessarily that they won't use it on their essay," she says. That is, they may be concise in their tweets – but not on term papers.
Yesterday Justin Bieber tweeted, among other things, "We in the BAY" and "KILLED IT LAST NIGHT IN OAKLAND!!! ENERGY WAS CRAZY. We are still talking about it." English teachers may shudder. But not me. I'd rather read his under-140-word missives than, "The fans were utilizing their vocal organs in Oakland to express their exuberance for their object of infatuation."
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