Online Communication is not the End of Writing Well
Posted by Mike on September 3, 2006
This opinion piece is intended for those who are unsure about the matter and those who have an open mind but are convinced that writing ability has worsened as a result of online culture.
There are many who believe that our writing abilities have been severely hampered as a result of email, instant messaging and online communication as a whole. Anyone need only be pointed to a MySpace chat room as evidence supporting this theory, with the kind of shorthand and disregard for spellchecking that would leave government cryptologists baffled, or turn any high school English teacher into a grammatical Torquemada. This is what we as a society have accepted as proof beyond reasonable doubt that the online culture has created a monster who can’t spell ‘monster’. However, I think this rationale has quite a few holes. There is plenty of evidence to suggest that the opposite is true, that the online culture has improved our society’s writing skills.
My personal experience is that online forms of communication have forced me to become a better writer. I thoughtfully analyze what I am writing about and make sure that I have produced a good piece before even considering putting my words online. There is reason to believe that many others feel the same way, since it is common knowledge that any online posting is public information, potentially accessible to friends, family, teachers, critics, government officials or potential employers.
For example, using the internet and especially e-mail is an alternative means of communicating to phone or live conversations. More often than not, most Americans are now deeply inclined not to make a phone call when they can send an e-mail just as easily. As a result, we write more often and in much larger volume than ever before, which I believe make better writers in our society. In fact, many individuals prefer this form of communication, since they can leave a “paper trail” making future misquoting or alteration of facts impossible.
While there are clear acts of treason of the English language in various chat rooms worldwide, these are isolated and very informal gatherings in the web. They constitute a small percentage of online writing, and such butchering of the language is rarely transferred into writing in daily life. This point also underlies a much more important reason why online communication has positively impacted writing in this society.
As much evidence of misuse of the English as there is out there online, there is one great inescapable fact. When you put a piece of writing online, especially in a chat room or blog, that piece is out there in the open for everyone to see. It is thus highly probable, if not almost certain, that an innumerable amount of people whom you don’t know are going to get a first impression of you via what you’ve written online. And if you’ve written something horrendous, he/she is going to either dismiss you as an idiot or contact you and rip you a new one for writing something so idiotic. This culture therefore creates tremendous pressure to write well online because whether you like it or not, what you write is going to be read by strangers.
Consider the example of a boss or potential employer. He or she wants to now as much about a current or future employee as possible. So your boss performs some “web reconnaissance” on you or hires someone to do so. Your boss finds everything you’ve written online, including chat rooms; potential employers are allowed to look in places such MySpace and Facebook to find or dig dirt on a potential employee. If employers like what they see, you get hired, or your job is secure. If they don’t, chances are that you’re looking for a job elsewhere. It is very similar when you send an employer an e-mail for the first time; you must impress or else.
This is the nature of online communication. The majority of those who are savvy regarding the realm of the Web simply would not be comfortable putting anything out there for all to see and judge that they do not consider of high quality. It is this pressure which in my opinion helps most of us to become better writers online.