The Millennials Will Usher in a New Age of Literacy

By Willa A. Cmiel

There is so much misunderstood critical analysis in journalism, often from the venerable New York Times or something equivalent, expressing severely fragmented or widely miscalculated opinions on the state of today’s young people. Perhaps it’s a rite of passage, but it often seems that my generation gets the short end of the stick in this historically and culturally critical period where blogs reign high and online presences require real cultivation.  Over and over again are there complaints about our Twitter-obsessed minds, our over-texting tendencies, and the fact that no one actually reads books anymore.  On the path to illiteracy, are we?  Developing a generation of Adderall-induced, emoticon-using, pathetically apathetic individuals?  Think again, please.

After all, we can’t possibly be blamed for such technological dependence, that would be truly unreasonable.  While our parents’ generation is responding to technology, we’ve grown up with it.  For us, texting is nearly as natural as possessing two feet and ten toes.  Similarly, the internet is something we can’t imagine life without.  (Surely if that were the case we’d be happily surviving, but in what state it’s certainly impossible for anyone to consider.)  And while it’s natural to respond to change with initial hostility, we the Millennials are still carving our way, whereas the previous generation’s writers have already solidified themselves as cultural influencers (or worse, academics!), and to criticize a state of affairs the nature of which little is understood, is tremendously unfair.

[I beg you, give us – and our tweets – a chance.]

Clive Thompson at Wired covers a study by writing and rhetoric professor Andrea Lunsford called the Stanford Study of Writing.  For five years (2001-2006), Lunsford collected and studied nearly 15,000 student writing samples, both academic and extra-curricular (essays, texts, blog posts, tweets, emails, instant messages).

“Lunsford’s team found that the students were remarkably adept at what rhetoricians call kairos—assessing their audience and adapting their tone and technique to best get their point across. The modern world of online writing, particularly in chat and on discussion threads, is conversational and public, which makes it closer to the Greek tradition of argument than the asynchronous letter and essay writing of 50 years ago.”  According to Thompson, she labels this time period a “literacy revolution the likes of which we haven’t seen since Greek civilization.“(italics my own)

Endlessly exhilarating, I can think of few greater compliments for a generation in its Herculean entirety – few purer sentiments nor desirable existences – as that which Lunsford epically, and Socratically, provides.