So yes, when we're augmenting ourselves, we can be smarter. We're becoming centaurs. But our digital tools can also leave us smarter even when we're not actively using them.
Joining the Conversation
1. Clive Thompson lists three shifts-infinite memory, dot connecting, and explosive publishing-that he believes have strongly affected our cognition. What exactly does he mean by these three shifts, and in what ways does he think they have changed our thinking?
2. Thompson starts paragraph 20 by saying "Our tools are everywhere, linked with our minds, working in tandem." What do you think? Does his statement reflect your own experience with technology?
3. In paragraphs 33-35, Thompson cites Nicholas Carr, whose views about technology differ from his. How does he respond to Carr- and how does acknowledging views he disagrees with help support his own position?
4. So what? Has Thompson convinced you that his topic mat- ters? If so, how and where does he do so?
5. Write an essay reflecting on the ways digital technologies have influenced your own intellectual development, drawing from Thompson's text and other readings in this chapter- and on your own experience as support for your argument. Be sure to acknowledge views other than your own.
Does Texting Affect Writing?
IT's TAKING OVER OUR LIVES. We can do it almost anywhere-walking to class, waiting in line at the grocery store, or hanging out at home. It's quick, easy, and convenient. It has become a concern of doctors, parents, and teachers alike. What is it? It's texting!
Text messaging-or texting, as it's more commonly called- is the process of sending and receiving typed messages via a cellular phone. It is a common means of communication among teenagers and is even becoming popular in the business world because it allows quick messages to be sent without people having to commit to a telephone conversation. A person is able to say what is needed, and the other person will receive the information and respond when it's convenient to do so.
In order to more quickly type what they are trying to say, many people use abbreviations instead of words. The language created by these abbreviations is called textspeak. Some people
MICHAELA CuLLINGTON was a student at Marywood University in
Pennsylvania when she wrote this essay, which originally appeared
in Young Scholars in Writing, an undergraduate journal of writing pub-
lished by the University of Missouri-Kansas City. She received a mas-
ters degree in speech and language pathology from Marywood in 2014.
Here's the summary of an ongoing
debate. For lips an this move,
see Chapter 1.
believe that using these abbreviations is hindering the writing abilities of students, and others argue that tex- ting is actually having a positive effect on writing. In fact, it seems likely that texting has no significant effect
on student writing.
Concerns about Textspeak
A September 2008 article in USA Today entitled "Texting, Test- ing Destroys Kids' Writing Style" summarizes many of the most common complaints about the effect of texting. It states that according to the National Center for Education Statistics, only 25% of high school seniors are "proficient" writers. The article quotes Jacquie Ream, a former teacher and author ofK.I.S.S .- Keep It Short and Simple, a guide for writing more effectively. Ream states, "[W]e have a whole generation being raised with- out communication skills." She blames the use of acronyms and shorthand in text messages for students' inability to spell and ulti- mately to write well. Ream also points out that students struggle to convey emotion in their writing because, as she states, in text messages "emotions are always sideways smiley faces."
This debate became prominent after some teachers began to believe they were seeing a decline in the writing abilities of their students. Many attributed this perceived decline to the increasing popularity of text messaging and its use of abbrevia- tions. Naomi Baron, a linguistics professor at American Univer- sity, blames texting for what she sees as the fact that "so much of American society has become sloppy and laissez faire about the mechanics of writing" ("Should We Worry or LOU"). Teachers report finding "2" for "to," "gr8" for "great," "dat" for "that," and "wut" for "what," among other examples of textspeak, in their students' writing. A Minnesota teacher of the seventh
Does Texting Affect Writing?
and ninth grades says that she has to spend extra time in class editing papers and must "explicitly" remind her students that it is not acceptable to use text slang and abbreviations in writing (Walsh). Another English teacher believes that text language has become "second nature" to her students (Carey); they are so used to it that they do not even catch themselves doing it.
Many also complain that because texting does not stress the importance of punctuation, students are neglecting it in their formal writing. Teachers say that their students are forgetting commas, apostrophes, and even capital letters to begin sen- tences. Another complaint is that text messages lack emotion. Many argue that texts lack feeling because of their tendency to be short, brief, and to the point. Because students are not able to communicate emotion effectively through texts, some teachers worry, they may lose the ability to do so in writing.
To get a more personal perspective on the question of how t~acher~ perceive texting to be influencing student writing, I mterv1ewed two of my former high school teachers-my junior- year English teacher and my senior-year theology teacher. Both tea~he~s stress the importance of writing in their courses. They mamtam that they notice text abbreviations in their students' writing often. To correct this problem, they point it out when it occurs and take points off for its use. They also remind their stu- dents to use proper sentence structure and complete sentences. The English teacher says that she believes texting inhibits good writing- it reinforces simplistic writing that may be acceptable
f~r.~onversation but is "not so good for critical thinking or analy- SIS. She suggests that texting tends to generate topic sentences without emphasizing the following explanation. According to these teachers, then, texting is inhibiting good writing. How- ever, their evidence is limited, based on just a few personal experiences rather than on a significant amount of research.
Responses to Concerns about Textspeak
In response to these complaints that texting is having a nega- tive impact on student writing, others insist that texting should be viewed as beneficial because it provides students with motivation to write, practice in specific writing skills, and an opportunity to gain confidence in their writing. For example, Sternberg, Kaplan, and Borck argue that texting is a good way to motivate students: teens enjoy texting, and if they frequently write through texts, they will be more motivated to write for- mally. Texting also helps to spark students' creativity, these authors argue, because they are always coming up with new ways to express their ideas (417).
In addition, because they are engaging in written commu- nication rather than oral speech, texting teens learn how to convey their message to a reader in as few words as possible. In his book Txtng: The GrB DbB, David Crystal discusses a study that concludes that texting actually helps foster "the ability to summarize and express oneself concisely" in writing (168) . Furthermore, Crystal explains that texting actually helps people to "sharpen their diplomatic skills . .. [because] it allows more time to formulate their thoughts and express them carefully" (168). One language arts teacherfrom Minnesota believes that texting helps students develop their own "individual voice" (qtd. in Walsh). Perfecting such a voice allows the writer to offer personal insights and express feelings that will interest and engage readers.
Supporters of texting also argue that it not only teaches 10 elements of writing but provides extra practice to those who struggle with the conventions of writing. As Crystal points out, children who struggle with literacy will not choose to use a technology that requires them to do something that is difficult
Does Texting Affect Writing?
for them. However, if they do choose to text, the experience wil~ help them "overcome their awkwardness and develop their ~oc~al a~d communication skills" (T xtng 171). Shirley Holm, a JUntor htgh school teacher, describes texting as a "comfortable form of communication" (qtd. in Walsh). Teenagers are used to texting, enjoy doing so, and as a result are always writing. Through this experience of writing in ways they enjoy, they can learn .to take pleasure in writing formally. If students are continually writing in some form, they will eventually develop better skills.
. Furthermore, those who favor texting explain that with prac- tice comes the confidence and courage to try new things, which some observers believe they are seeing happen with writing as a result of texting. Teenagers have, for example, created an entir~ly new language-one that uses abbreviations and sym- bols mstead of words, does not require punctuation, and uses s~ort, incomplete phrases throughout the entire conversation. Its a way of speaking that is a language in and of itself. Crystal, among others, sees this "language evolution" as a positive effect of texting; ~e seems, in fact, fascinated that teenagers are capa- ble of creatmg such a phenomenon, which he describes as the "latest manifestation of the human ability" (Txtng 175). David Warlick, a teacher and author of books about technology in the classroom, would agree with Crystal. He believes students should be given credit for "inventing a new language ideal for communicating in a high-tech world" (qtd. in Carey).
I decided to conduct my own research into this controversy. I wanted to get different, more personal, perspectives on the issue. First, I surveyed seven students on their opinions about
the impact of texting on writing. Second, I questioned two high school teachers, as noted above. Finally, in an effort to compare what students are actually doing to people's percep- tions of what they are doing, I analyzed student writing samples for instances of textspeak. 1
To let students speak for themselves, I created a list of ques- tions for seven high school and college students, some of my closest and most reliable friends. Although the number of respondents was small, I could trust my knowledge of them to help me interpret their responses. In addition, these students are very different from one another, and I believed their differ- ences would allow for a wide array of thoughts and opinions on the issue. I was thus confident in the reliability and diversity of their answers but was cautious not to make too many assump- tions because of the small sample size.
I asked the students how long they had been texting; how often they texted; what types of abbreviations they used most and how often they used them; and whether they noticed them- selves using any type of textspeak in their formal writing. In analyzing their responses, I looked for commonalities to help me draw conclusions about the students' texting habits and if/ how they believed their writing was affected.
I created a list of questions for teachers similar to the one 15 for the students and asked two of my high school teachers to provide their input. I asked if they had noticed their students using textspeak in their writing assignments and, if so, how they dealt with it. I also asked if they believed texting had a positive or negative effect on writing. Next, I asked if they were texters themselves. And, finally, I solicited their opin- ions on what they believed should be done to prevent teens from using text abbreviations and other textspeak in their
Does Texting Affect Writing?
was surprised at how different the students' replies and opinions were from the teachers'. I decided to find out for myself whose impressions were more accurate by comparing some stu- dents' actual writing with students' and teachers' perceptions of that writing. To do this I looked at twenty samples of student writing- end-of-semester research arguments written in two first-year college writing courses with different instructors. The topics varied from increased airport security after September 11 to the weapons of the Vietnam War to autism, and lengths ranged from eight to ten pages. To analyze the papers for the presence of textspeak, I looked closely for use of abbreviations and other common slang terms, especially those usages which the students had stated in their surveys were most common. These included "hbu" ("How about you?"); "gtg" ("Got to go"); and "cuz" ("because"). I also looked for the numbers 2 and 4 used instead of the words "to" and "for."
Discussion of Findings
My research suggests that texting actually has a minimal effect on student writing. It showed that students do not believe textspeak is appropriate in formal writing assignments. They recognize the difference between texting friends and writing formally and know what is appropriate in each situation. This was proven true in the student samples, in which no examples of textspeak were used. Many experts would agree that there is no harm in textspeak, as long as students continue to be taught and reminded that occasions where formal language is expected are not the place for it. As Crystal explains, the purpose of the abbreviations used in text messages is not to replace language but rather to make quick communica- tions shorter and easier, since in a standard text message,
the texter is allowed only 160 characters for a communication ("Texting" 81).
Dennis Baron, an English and linguistics professor at the University of Illinois, has done much research on the effect of technology on writing, and his findings are aligned with those of my own study. In his book A Better Pencil: Readers, Writers, and the Digital Revolution, he concludes that students do not use textspeak in their writing. In fact, he suggests students do not even use abbreviations in their text messages very often. Baron says that college students have "put away such childish things, and many of them had already abandoned such signs of middle-school immaturity in high school" (qtd. in Golden).
In surveying the high school and college students, I found that most have been texting for a few years, usually starting around ninth grade. The students said they generally text between thirty and a hundred messages every day but use abbre- viations only occasionally, with the most common being "lol'' ("Laugh out loud"), "gtg" ("Got to go"), "hbu" ("How about you?"), "cuz" ("because"), and "jk" ("Just kidding"). None of them believed texting abbreviations were acceptable in for- mal writing. In fact, research has found that most students report that they do not use textspeak in formal writing. As one Minnesota high school student says, "[T]here is a time and a place for everything," and formal writing is not the place for communicating the way she would if she were texting her friends (qtd. in Walsh). Another student admits that in writing for school she sometimes finds herself using these abbrevia- tions. However, she notices and corrects them before handing in her final paper (Carey). One teacher reports that, despite texting, her students' "formal writing remains solid." She occa- sionally sees an abbreviation; however, it is in informal, "warm- up" writing. She believes that what students choose to use in
3 6 8
Does Texting Affect Writing?
everyday types of writing is up to them as long as they use standard English in formal writing (qtd. in Walsh).
Also supporting my own research findings are those from a 20 study which took place at a midwestern research university. This study involved eighty-six students who were taking an Intro- duction to Education course at the university. The participants were asked to complete a questionnaire that included questions about their texting habits, the spelling instruction they had received, and their proficiency at spelling. They also took a standardized spelling test. Before starting the study, the research- ers had hypothesized that texting and the use of abbreviations would have a negative impact on the spelling abilities of the students. However, they found that the results did not support their hypothesis. The researchers did note that text messaging is continuing to increase in popularity; therefore, this issue should continue to be examined (Shaw, Carlson, and Waxman).
I myself am a frequent texter. I chat with my friends from home every day through texting. I also use texting to commu- nicate with my school friends, perhaps to discuss what time we are going to meet for dinner or to ask quick questions about homework. According to my cell phone bill, I send and receive around 6,400 texts a month. In the messages I send, I rarely notice myself using abbreviations. The only time I use them is if I do not have time to write out the complete phrase. However, sometimes I find it more time-consuming to try to figure out how to abbreviate something so that my message will still be comprehensible.
Since I rarely use abbreviations in my texting, I never use them in my formal writing. I know that they are unacceptable and that it would make me look unintelligent if I included acronyms and symbols instead of proper and formal language. I also have not noticed an effect on my spelling as a result
3 6 9
of texting. I am confident in my spelling abilities, and even when I use an abbreviation, I know how to spell the word(s)
it stands for. On the basis of my own research, expert research, and per-
sonal observations, I can confidently state that texting is not interfering with students' use of standard written English and has no effect on their writing abilities in general. It is inter- esting to look at the dynamics of the arguments over these issues. Teachers and parents who claim that they are seeing a decline in the writing abilities of their students and children mainly support the negative-impact argument. Other teachers and researchers suggest that texting provides a way for teens to practice writing in a casual setting and thus helps prepare them to write formally. Experts and students themselves, however, report that they see no effect, positive or negative. Anecdotal experiences should not overshadow the actual evidence.
1. All participants in the study have given permission for their responses
to be published.
Baron, Dennis. A Better Pencil: Readers, Writers, and the Digital Revolution.
Oxford: Oxford UP, 2009. Print. Carey, Bridget. "The Rise of Text, Instant Messaging Vernacular Slips into
Schoolwork." Miami Herald 6 Mar. 2007: n. pag. Academic Search Elite.
Web. 27 Oct. 2009. Crystal, David. "Texting." ELT ]ournal62.1 (2008) : 77- 83. Wilson Web. Web.
8 Nov. 2009. --. Txmg: The OrB DbB. Oxford: Oxford UP, 2008. Print.
Does Texting Affect Writing?
Golden, Serena. Rev. of A Better Pencil. Inside Higlter Ed 18 Sept. 2009: n. pag. Web. 9 Nov. 2009.
Shaw, Donita M., Carolyn Carlson, and Mickey Waxman. "An Exploratory Investigation into the Relationship between Text Messaging and
Spelling." New England Reading Association]oumal43 (2007): 57-62. Wilson Web. Web. 8 Nov. 2009.
"Should We Worry or LOU" NEA Today Mar. 2004: 12. Academic Search Elite. Web. 27 Oct. 2009.
Sternberg, Betty, Karen A. Kaplan, and Jennifer E. Borck. "Enhancing Adolescent Literacy Achievement through Integration ofTechnology in the Classroom." Reading Research Quarterly 42 (2007): 416-20. Wilson Web. Web. 8 Nov. 2009.
"Texting, Testing Destroys Kids' Writing Style." USA Today 137.2760 (2008): 8. Academic Search Elite. Web. 9 Nov. 2009.
Walsh, James. "Txt Msgs Creep in2 class; Some Say That's gr8." Star Tribune 23 Oct. 2007: n. pag. Academic Search Elite. Web. 27 Oct. 2009.
Joining the Conversation
1. Michaela Cullington makes clear in her first paragraph what viewpoint she's responding to. What is this view (her "they say"), and what is her view (her "I say")? What kinds of evidence does she offer in support of her argument?
2. Cullington acknowledges the views of quite a few naysayers, including teachers who believe that texting has a negative effect on their students' writing. How-and where in her essay-does she respond to this criticism? Is her response persuasive- and if not, why not?
3. What kinds of sources does Cullington cite, and how does she incorporate their ideas in her essay? Look at paragraph 18, for instance: how well does she introduce and explain Dennis Baron's ideas? (See pp. 44-48 on framing quotations.)
4. Cullington focuses on how texting affects on writing, whereas Sherry T urkle is concerned with the way it affects communication more broadly (pp. 373-92). How do you think Cullington would respond to Turkle's concerns?
5. Cullington "send[s] and receive[s] around 6,400 texts a month" (paragraph 21). About how many do you send and receive? Write a paragraph reflecting on how your texting affects your other writing. First write it as a text, and then revise it to meet the standards of academic writing. How do
the two differ?
No Need to Call
"So MANY PEOPLE HATE THE TELEPHONE," says Elaine, seventeen. Among her friends at Roosevelt High School, "it's all texting and messaging." She herself writes each of her six closest friends roughly twenty texts a day. In addition, she says, "there are about forty instant messages out, forty in, when I'm at home on the computer." Elaine has strong ideas about how electronic media "levels the playing field" between people like her--outgoing, on the soccer team, and in drama club-and the shy: "It's only on the screen that shy people open up." She explains why: "When you can think about what you're going to say, you can talk to someone you'd have trouble talking to. And it doesn't seem weird that you pause for two minutes to
SHERRY TuRKLE teaches in the program in science, technology, and
society at MIT and directs the MIT Initiative on Technology and Self.
She has been described as the "Margaret Mead of digital culture." Her
books include Alone Together: Why We Expect More from Technology
and Less from Each Other (2011), Life on the Screen: Identity in the Age
of the Internet (1995), and The Second Self: Computers and the Human Spirit (1984). This essay is from Alone Together.