• Carly Peeters

Teens, Texting and Literacy

If we can pinpoint a time when social media and texting surged, I would say it was when Steve Jobs gave us the smartphone. I was six when the first iPhone was released in January 9, 2007. Since then, the smartphone has had several iterations, and each one brings new functions and apps that make us more and more reliant on them.

Teenagers grew up communicating with family then with friends by text and social media. I have seen relationships begin and end on twitter (sad but true). My dad texts me from the living room to tell me to feed the dog. I text my mom from my room asking if I can hang out with a friend. I was on a train with a friend in London (see pic above) and we spent quite a bit of time texting or snapchatting other people on our phones. Teens and adults alike are texting as they live and breathe. I dare say it is here to stay as technology gets smaller gadgets (ergo, the smartwatch) do more and more things.

The Pew Research Center's Internet and American Life Project noted in a report that teens now use texting as a primary form of interaction with their friends more than any other. With all these written communication one would think literacy would be positively affected. However, technology - in its pursuit of making life easier - gave us predictive text. We can sound smarter with our text sentences if we wanted to because the phone will suggest the next word as we type. Additionally, we don't even have to know how to spell, auto-correct are fixing spelling issues. As for grammar... what grammar? Textese involves abbreviations, acronyms, and let's not forget emojis. Not exactly Shakespearean. Today, with the latest iPhone software update you don't even have to respond to a text with a text. You can just press on the last text message sent to you and select thumbs up or down, the words "HaHa" or a heart to answer back.

It is not surprising that teachers are not so happy with texting and "textese." Some teachers complain that they get submitted research papers full of abbreviations and misspelled words. This is even more frequent with handwritten assignments as the students cannot rely on their computer's auto-correct application. There has not been an actual study correlating te literacy per se, but bear in mind that functional literacy involves reading and writing above an eighth grade level. A person can text adequately but still be functionally illiterate. Just imagine a person whose bulk of writing experience is textese filling a job application.

As with everything, moderation is key. Put the phone down when you are with people and interact (and yes, I shall heed my own words). Take the time to read a book. Use technology to enhance your life, not do everything for you. The little things in life still matter.

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