The Age Gap & Technology

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As I continue reading Smarter Than You Think, I'm fascinated by Thompson's discussions of reading, writing, thinking, and the interplay among them all. One topic I found particularly interesting in Chapter 3, "Public Thinking," was Thompson's discussion of Andrea Lunsford and her work in the field of writing research.

Throughout college, I noticed that some professors would ask my fellow classmates and I about our affinity toward using "text message" language in our writing. I think they expected that since many of us had, in a sense, grown up with technology like email, texting, IM, etc., we'd be tempted to use that type of language in our more formal writing (and they wanted us to realize this was not okay). I've always found line of questioning to be somewhat strange - I didn't get a cell phone or text messaging until I was 16 years old, when I was a sophomore in high school, and most of my friends were the same.

cell phone
My first cell phone in 2008

My family had dial-up internet until I was about the same age (and apparently some people still do...!), and if any of you have used dial-up, you know that the lure of internet fades quickly when each webpage takes 5+ minutes to load and your parents are constantly telling you to get off the web so they can make a call on the house phone (because you couldn't do both at the same time and that was a very real struggle at my house). Basically, my point is that I went through 10+ years of schooling, during which time I learned to read and write in a variety of formats, long before I ever sent a text or typed out a Facebook instant message. I'd venture to say the same was true of the majority of my peers. So, for me, the temptation to use "IM" or "texting" language in a formal essay, or even an email, was never there because it just wasn't part of my development as a writer or reader.


However, people just a few years younger than me (perhaps even some of you who are in the 18-20 range), probably had a very different experience with technology in their formative years. Kids in middle or high school now probably can't remember life before the internet, or maybe even before smart phones (scary!). The rapid evolution of technology and the digital revolution has made the distinction between generations even more obvious, and for people who are older than me, the reality is even more apparent: my mom likes to remind me that when she was in middle school, her family purchased their first color TV; now, she has a smart phone and it's glued to her like a pre-teen girl! People of her generation have really seen the evolution of technology over the course of their lives, which is pretty cool to consider.

I think as technology continues to develop, we'll continue to see the way it affects people of different ages. Maybe 5 years from now, there will be a problem with students using text abbreviations in more formal writing, or maybe teachers will work harder to combat that possibility with stronger writing instruction. I think the most exciting point in this chapter was that the internet has given us so many opportunities for writing in so many different formats. Although there are negative aspects to this (like I discussed in a previous post about trolling), the availability of good, honest, insightful (and sometimes really funny!) writing is so much greater than it was pre-digital age, and I find that to be a positive that outweighs any of the dark sides of the web.