2b or not 2b, that is the ?

Social media’s effect on English literacy

2 minute read
Is this cute little bird leading kids — and adults — astray?
Is this cute little bird leading kids — and adults — astray?

Are we destined to live with LOL, BTW, thru, and u — to say nothing of such illiteracies as it’s for its and your for you’re?

Actor Ralph Fiennes, a brilliant portrayer of such Shakespearean heroes as Coriolanus, blames Facebook and Twitter for this bastardization of the language of Shakespeare. He says that our expressiveness and our ease with some words are being diluted so that a sentence with more than one clause is a problem for us, as is a word of more than two syllables.

Shakespeare himself, currently celebrating his 450th birthday, is having a rough time of it. College English courses are increasingly giving him short shrift, replacing his immortal works with subjects such as gay and lesbian studies, women of color in the U.S., and feminist and queer theory. Manhattan Institute fellow Heather Mac Donald ascribes this to what she calls the characteristic academic traits of our time: an obsession with victimhood and a relentless determination to reduce the stunning complexity of the past to the shallow categories of identity and class politics. This is the kind of narcissism that also rears its ugly head on Twitter and Facebook. The British magazine The Spectator, clearly vying for some imaginary non-equivocation prize, calls these media “a fugue of almost unrelieved idiocy, malice, spite, misinformation, banalities, lunacies, non sequiturs and tedious vapidities.”

UCLA’s undergraduate courses in English still pay lip service to such literary luminaries as Chaucer and Milton, and Shakespeare is hanging on, albeit with such addenda as the role of blacks in his plays, jostling with a course on pornography and the politics of female exploitation.

Who’s to blame for this dumbing down? The finger might be pointed at teachers, many of whom seem to have lost touch with the beauty and cadence of the English language. Parents, too, seem unwilling to encourage their kids in the proper use of language. So it's hardly surprising that many of today's youth have no frame of reference for the beauty and expressiveness of real –– as opposed to social media –– English.

And it’s not just the crimped and airless nature of social media conversation. It's the Social Me factor — what I’m doing/eating/thinking/feeling. Who really cares? And wouldn't the endless promotion of quotidian doings be better replaced by some worthwhile activity such as harnessing all this inward thinking with some outward doing, like helping the homeless, tending the sick, or reading to the blind?

And if you still harbor any doubts that social media is dumbing us down, just Google that sentiment and look at the semiliterate responses. As the lawyers say: res ipsa loquitor — the thing speaks for itself.

For a response by Rick Soisson, click here.

For a response by Alaina Mabaso, click here.

Sign up for our newsletter

All of the week's new articles, all in one place. Sign up for the free weekly BSR newsletters, and don't miss a conversation.

Join the Conversation