Pew Internet published an interesting survey last year looking at how parents and teenagers think about the writing they do in their spare time – online, on phones, and by hand – and the writing they do at school. The most interesting find is that young people don’t think of most online communication as “writing”:

Fully 85% of all teens engage at least occasionally in some form of electronic personal communication, which includes text messaging, sending email or instant messages, or posting comments on social networking sites. Although participation in these activities is
widespread, a majority (60%) of teens who send these communications do not consider them to be ìwriting.î

The reasons they give for this not being writing range from its not being long enough to its being a conversation, not writing – and certainly they have a point. Online writing is often different from traditional writing.

I wonder whether that’s because they genuinely find that online writing is different from traditional writing – or because they’re used to their school system not acknowledging their online culture as valid?

5 thoughts on “teenagers don’t think of online writing as “writing”

  1. […] Jill Walker Rettberg skriver p?• sin blogg om en unders??kning fr?•n Pew Internet d?§r det visat sig att 60% av alla ungdomar inte betraktar sitt digitala skrivande som riktigt ”skrivande”. Walker avslutar med att fr?•ga sig om det beror p?• att det skiljer sig s?• markant fr?•n traditionellt skrivande eller om det kan h?§nga ihop med utbildningsv?§sendets attityd gentemot formen.¬† […]

  2. Anne

    Det er vel de samme elevene som ikke innser at de leser nynorsk nÂr de leser Are Kalv¯. 🙂

  3. Eirik

    I’m not sure, but I assume we differentiate between writing a book, a paper or a short story, and writing a SMS, a post-it-note or an email?

    There is/must be a gradient ladder from casual to hard core? From scribbling in the sand to being William Shakespeare.

    All the small pieces of text we all write down continuously, does not make us all hard core writers? I think I agree with the kids; I hardly ever write anything. I’m just casually but frequently forming letters in sequence to amuse myself and others. Communication through text isn’t necessary chiseled in stone as writing?

  4. Jill Walker Rettberg

    Perhaps in all our talk of oral and conversational aspects of internet communication we’ve sort of eluded the point – maybe it makes no more sense to think of what I’m doing now as “writing in a social, conversational medium” than it would to think of it as “conversation that happens to be written”?

    I think rather than correcting teenagers for misunderstanding what writing is we should see this as an opportunity to rethink our categories.

  5. Christian

    Dear Jill,

    the question concerning the written character of online communication is very ambigous, indeed. As you have shown the term “writing” can in fact refer to manifold things. Yet, there is clearly a difference between “writing” understood as a medium and as conception. Writing as a medium principally alludes to the medial contrast between spoken and written language. In other words, digital communication is for the most part (e.g. blogging, twittering, texting) “writing” simply because you use a keyboard rather than your voice to type in letters, and you read rather than hear the signs perceived. Yet, the teenagers in the PEW study seemed to have in mind a different kind of concept, i.e. conceptual literality. Here, “writing” aligns with the qualities of its prototypical text genre, e.g. novel (written prose). You mentioned that the teenagers who did not consider their online communication to be “writing” included criteria such as length, closure, one-sidedness, etc. In this context, we should realize that the difference between oral and written language, such as the contast between spoken and written text or discourse (or, for that matter, between oral and literal narratives) is not at all one of binary opposition, but rather one of degrees. Interestingly enough, the PEW question reveals teenagers’ personal assessment of the degree of conceptual orality and literacy they think is involved in their personal communicative acitivities on the internet. I guess you are right in assumung that with the recent upraise of more responsive and interactive forms of online communication, traditional concepts of writing are about to be reshaped by concepts of “writings”. Maybe asasynchronous, semiotically-hybrid types of internet conversations, defining a new digital literality bridging the traditional views of prototypical spoken (prose) and written discourse (face-to-face conversation).

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