Is technology damaging young people’s literacy skills?

Some people say that communication using computers and phones will have negative effects on young people’s writing and reading skills. Do you agree or disagree?

For many people, of all ages, the question ‘when was the last time you wrote a letter?’ requires some serious thought. Yet whilst putting pen to paper is now mostly reserved for school work or amateur writers, the act of writing itself (if taken to mean communicating by words) is actually on the rise thanks to technology: emails, messages, blogs, website posts and more dominate modern communication. Some argue this change in medium is detrimental to young people learning the skills of good writing; my personal opinion on this, however, is that communicating using technology is not damaging per se, but the platforms most people use have placed ease-of-use and efficiency over art and attention.

One of the major criticisms levelled against communicating via technology is that it gives rise to a stunted and uneducated style of prose. Advocates of traditional methods of communication, such as writing by hand, argue that due to their comparative slowness more thought and care goes into the content, thus portraying greater personality and artistic merit. Certainly, when measured against the speed at which a Facebook, Wechat or Twitter post can be published, writing by hand is almost akin to deliberately foregoing your camera and opting to paint. Nonetheless, despite the merits of the more protracted method, I would argue that the modern world requires both traditional and modern means to co-exist because, quite simply, cumbersome artistry is not a prerequisite for the majority of communication.

That said, where technology has hurt reading and writing skills is in its profligacy – it is now so easy to communicate that necessity is often no longer a priority, and this has resulted in a rise in base habits. Platforms where instant voices, egotistical preening, and shallow and immediate gratification are easily achieved are widely popular, as are interactive business models that ask users to contribute frequently yet abruptly. The knock-on effect is that people have taken to using technology to casually communicate in staccato forms, desiring quantity over quality in a search for attention, whilst simultaneously dismissing items of depth. Ultimately this leads to language such as ‘ Out 2nite (happy emoticon)’, or ‘tl;dr’ (‘too long; didn’t read).

We have therefore reached a point at which information often juxtaposes quality due to bad habits. However, as technology cannot be put back in the bottle it is therefore the job of the education system and parents to ensure that young people learn intelligent skills prior to becoming contributors. Whilst the hand-written letter may be on its last legs, aesthetic and worthwhile writing skills can and will survive with the right attitude.