Hype is Always Negative

textingI watched this TED talk yesterday, given by John McWorter, who is a linguist. The talk (only 13 minutes, definitely worth it) explains why the younger generation, with their penchant for text messaging, is NOT proof that our world is going to heck in a handbasket, as is often claimed by the older generations. We look at “kids these days” and their disdain for grammar, punctuation, and rules and we worry that they will fail as grownups, and bring the rest of us down with them.

As a speaker and author on generational issues, I hear this complaint a lot about millennials. They can’t write. They don’t know how to use complete sentences. All they know how to do are status updates, but they can’t string two sentences together. There is one problem with these complaints: it’s all hype.

Yes, there are plenty of examples of texts with bad grammar, but this doesn’t mean Millennials can’t write. McWorter makes a compelling case on the issue of writing. He’s a linguist, and he studies language, so he knows. He recognizes that the speech (spoken word) is different than writing. The way we speak and the way we write is different, and it always has been. And it’s only recently (with computers and mobile phones) that we have started actually use writing to convey our speech. He calls texting “fingered speech,” because it’s not really writing at all. It’s talking. And that’s why it doesn’t follow the same rules (when’s the last time you thought about punctuation as you were talking to someone?).

And what’s even better is that he points out ways in which the younger generation has actually been evolving this form of speech. Things like “LOL” and “slash” are being used differently now in texting than they were a few years ago. That’s pretty advanced, to be able to start generating a new language–to actually be bilingual to some extent–in both texting and English.

So the next time you find yourself shaking your head disapprovingly at how a different generation does things, be sure to challenge your own assumptions. When problems can be easily blamed on a generation, it’s probably hype. Hype is always negative, and it’s usually used to blame the “other” group. This is natural, to some extent. It’s easier for our brains to conclude that “difference” is “less effective” or “wrong.” It allows us to have a consistent, happy picture of ourselves, and we like that. But that happy place is not where learning happens, so don’t let yourself stay there too long. Don’t fall for the hype. Seek out more data (like from expert linguists) before you jump on the blame bandwagon.

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{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Shawn Urban (stefras) May 19, 2013 at 4:29 pm

I always found it intriguing that each generation (yep, generalization) thinks that its experiences are unique, that previous and later generations are different and out of touch with “reality” or “the world”. But, really, where is the difference? I have never encountered it, and I bet no else has either.

For example, it has been said on many occasions that bullying has increased with time. But when I was a kid, about 3% of the kids were bullies; when my father was a kid, about 3% of the kids were bullies; when my grandfather was a kid, …; and I see about the same percent today. The violence and style of bullying hasn’t even changed. The tools have, but the bullying hasn’t.

We often preach empathy to those we teach, whether our kids, their friends or our students. However, very few people of any age and generation empathize (practice empathy, truly scrutinize and understand) with other people of different ages and generations.

I like the comparison of “finger speech” to talking and contrast to writing. We often think that texters are writing, but even I, who tweets, finger speek differently than I write. The punctuation issue gets to me when finger speech bleeds into one’s writing, but how many teachers have a clear understanding of the difference between finger speech, talking and writing. How many of us pass this distinction on to our students and teach from there.

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