Texting Confounds “Old Folks” & Writing Skills

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texting keys

Bliss or befuddlement

Good, bad, ugly, all of these? . . . This interesting infographic posted at Onlineschools.com shows a few statistics about texting. Check it out – scroll down a bit for news of texting’s impact on reading and writing.

As an English teacher, I frankly don’t believe the ubiquity of texting helps students’ writing. I do believe texting hampers vocabulary and spelling – perhaps not if it were done in moderation, but at the high volume at which it actually is practiced by young people (109.5 text messages sent, on average, per day). Pair this widespread habit with documented decreasing reading rates and skills among teenagers and adults, and some writing-skill slippage seems inevitable.

Furthermore, as a casual observer outside the powerhouse-texting age range, I confess I am confused about the high-volume texting phenomenon, period. I understand the popularity; I can see “texting fever.” I also can imagine a general lack of understanding between those in texting’s thrall and those who exist more or less independently of their phones.

Perhaps you’re an avid texter wondering why texting is banned in the classroom, perhaps wondering what could be so wrong with these social exchanges? If so, please be aware these sentiments may be shared by your skeptical teachers, profs, and other assorted “old folks”:

The Physical:
Doesn’t all that texting hurt your thumbs, hands, eyes, and neck? We’d be worried about repetitive strain injuries. . .

The Impact on Life Outside Texting:
What is so important that you must discuss it back and forth 109.5 times a day? (That’s almost seven messages an hour for 16 hours straight!)  And as you text back and forth 109.5 times, what else in your day – your life – are you missing? Also, if you really do text on an ongoing basis, how can you concentrate on any task that takes longer than a few minutes?

The Distraction:
Do you realize you’re not paying attention to your surroundings as you’re texting while walking in public places? (I see this all the time.) Isn’t that a little bizarre and potentially dangerous?

On the dangerous note: you are aware, we hope, that texting while driving is wildly irresponsible and potentially deadly? Please: never text while driving or operating any kind of machinery.

What about texting seems incomprehensible to your profs or students?

Image via mrg.bz / dharder

3 Must-Reads for College Prep Writing

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Image by jaubele1 via Flickr

What’s the best advice I can give to those who’d like to improve their writing skills? Read. Read voraciously. Read material that challenges you. See here and here for more specifics.

For that frequently asked question, particularly by those who have been out of school for awhile, “Do you recommend a good book for general brushing up on my writing skills?”, oh, yes — but make that a handful of books:

1)       Strunk, William Jr., and E.B. White. The Elements of Style. 4th ed. New York: Longman, 2000.

A classic now in its fourth edition, this is a slim, concise volume that will help you with any form of college (or professional) writing.  It offers rock-solid advice and is destined to become a frequent reference, but it’s also charmingly written and definitely readable in a day.

2)      Truss, Lynne. Eats, Shoots and Leaves: The Zero Tolerance Approach to Punctuation. New York: Gotham, 2004.   

A best-selling, entertaining book that outlines the history and proper usage of punctuation marks in the English language.  If you fear your own punctuation skills may be deteriorating with every text message you send, this book is for you.

3)      A writer’s handbook of your choice.

Two very good ones to which my own English Comp students have responded positively:

Hacker, Diana and Nancy Sommers. A Writer’s Reference. 7th ed. Boston: Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2011.

Raimes, Ann. Pocket Keys for Writers. 3rd ed. Boston: Wadsworth, 2010.

*I’ve listed the most recent editions here…certainly, older editions are still floating around and most of the basic information will be the same.

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