Social media: Improving English literature

Perhaps we should have listened to Mr. Orwell much sooner…


Too often is it suggested that children’s literacy education is suffering detrimental consequences because of their frequent engagement in social media, text messaging and the Internet. Unlike ‘the good old days’ where you only knew if your mate from school was coming out to play if you ran a mile and knocked on his door, children can send a text message such as ‘r u comin out?’ in as little as 30 seconds. And, if your friend from school moved away, the only way you could see how they were getting on in their new abode, was if you wrote them a lengthy letter asking all sorts of detail before waiting a week to find out their reply. Now, with a 10 second Snapchat, you can see exactly what they are up to as well as hear about it.

But, does this mean that our younger generations, as they grow up in an increasingly digital world, are having their writing competency destroyed and eroded? No. Quite the opposite.

A recent study that looked into young peoples perception of writing, noted that 57% of young people who used text-based web applications such as blogs generally enjoyed writing compared to 40% of those who did not. In a society that faces difficulty in getting children to engage in writing, this shift to technological encouragement is crucial. Confidence in writing is paramount. Children who had a blog, or even a profile on a social networking site, appeared to be more assertive in their own writing ability with 61% of bloggers and 56% of social network users claiming to be good, or very good, at writing. If children are confident in their writing ability, they develop a style and it can be expected that their proficiency will also increase.

In 2006 there were 36m blogs worldwide, 5 years later there were 173m — does this not only show that people are enjoying writing more and that they are willing to share their work more?

Perhaps, therefore, it is threatening for adults to consider that children are developing the English language through their adapted written styles. By not completely understanding and engaging in similar speech and literature, those not engaging in social media begin to feel alienated by such alternative forms of communication. This digital written age is just another step in the development and continuance of the English language, as we have seen for decades before. Pendants have been lamenting the decline of language since at least AD63 and ‘texters’ are not ‘trying to do to the language what Genghis Khan did to his neighbours’ as the BBC’s John Humphrys has previously claimed. Just as text and dialogue changes, so does written English. Children understand the different contexts and societal situations for the various sub domains of written language. They understand that ‘text’ English has its place, and that place is not in a formal academic essay, for example.

George Orwell, arguably one of the greatest writers in English history, had a concept of literature that was far beyond his time. Orwell understood that written word should be just as spoken word. If you can miss a word out, you should. If you can say something simpler, you should. Never use a passive, when you can use an active. In essence, Orwell believed in short, concise English. Is that not what we have now thanks to the speed and pace of social media? Perhaps we should have listened to Mr. Orwell much sooner.