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Yeah, I had a J-school professor who was always irritated at what he termed "the declinists"--the people who thought that television was going to turn us all into drooling idiots. I felt like you could take Carr's essay, substitute "television" and "changing channels" for all the Internet-specific stuff, and you'd have every declinist screed written over the past 60 years. And they pretty much all begin with the author bemoaning the fact that he doesn't read books any more--I've read that enough times that I'm curious to know if book-reading typically declines with age (distractibility seems to increase with age, so maybe that is Carr's problem right there).

I was also annoyed because I know that there is research out there on Internet use and people's emotional well-being, so when I picked up the article, I was hoping for something a little more substantial. Ever the optimist, I know, expecting people to do all that difficult research and reporting.

Auntie Maim

I find it ironic that the WaPo article alludes to a 1937 article warning of the death of the sentence, seeming to argue that what that author was worried about -- needless complexity -- was nothing: NOW we have a real problem. I learned through my training to teach first-year composition to college students that the types of grammatical errors students make have stayed pretty much the same in type and number over time: see, for example, Harap's "The Most Common Grammatical Errors" (The English Journal 19(6): 440) and note how closely that list of errors from 1930 matches the errors on English Fail or your nearest K-12 or college classroom.

I agree that the written word isn't in any danger. What the declinists might be responding to is that in the past many may have been more "protected" from grammatical errors and heterodox structure, by publishers deciding what would be printed and copyeditors working to ensure it conformed to orthodoxy. With the internet, there is not as much stricture on production of the written word, so suddenly authors "unauthorized" by these power structures can produce writing and be read. These heterodox styles and grammar are coming into the light in a new way, but many aren't new. And still every generation has had their guardians of culture complaining that the new mode of language will be the death of us all.

Side note: just yesterday, my boyfriend and I were sharing amazed chuckles over outmoded language structures. I study 19th-century medical history, and in my research came across the stunningly titled, "Hydrophobia: an account of the awful and lamentable end of a whole family, who died deranged, from drinking the milk of a cow, bit by a mad dog: also, of the death of 2 persons, and the state of others, bit by dogs, in and near Glasgow, on Friday, Aug. 28th. 1824" I'm pretty sure I would have broken out in hives if one of my first-year English students tried to get a title with two colons and eight commas by me, but it was customary then. Point being, language "rules" are often customs, which change. As can rules, when you get down to it.

Auntie Maim

Oops, forgot to complete the link: English Fail is at http://englishfail.wordpress.com/.


Yeah, you know, I learned to write well (to the extent I do) by reading books and newspapers (the Post, as it happens) -- not by reading notes and letters from my friends; the quality of their writing really didn't affect mine. I don't see why the technological component would change that. And I had a couple high school English teachers whose language skills I considered pitiable, so I refuse to accept that there is some kind of generational problem.

Now. I will concede that the young attorneys and law students who submit writing samples to my firm are starting to fall into some pretty informal patterns. (...don't put "FYI" in your goddamned footnote, you know?)

But I don't think the flat-out incompetent writing we see here is the fault of the interwebs. I certainly feel the disappointment when someone makes it through high school, college, AND law school still under the firm impression that one forms a plural noun with the help of our plucky friend the apostrophe. And I understand the desire to blame -something- for this horrific state of events. And I was so disappointed to realized that widespread internet use would not naturally assist in the creation of BETTER writers (from the constant written self-expression, don't you know). But bad writing is not technology's fault.


Given that I've spent the week flipping between writing a paper on Dante's treatment of feminine sexuality and chatting with friends in text that is often influenced by LOLcats? I think I will give Carr a hearty UR DOIN IT RONG.

Lisa S.

I should have ditched the essay format and written my rebuttal as a series of LOLcats!


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