The Culture of LOL

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We throw a curve ball on what many consider the death of the English language. Here’s why your thumb workouts are making you a better speller. Or not.

By James Rubec


Texting isn’t bad for the kids. It isn’t destroying the King’s English, and it isn’t making you do any worse on your midterms. It’s widely assumed that this guilty pleasure of communication is going to be the death of language as we know it, but a study published in early 2009 flips this idea on its digital head. Texting improves reading and writing skills. OMG, I KNW!

The study published in the British Journal of Developmental Psychology, studied 88 children aged between 10 and 12. She performed a study in 2006 trying to find out if texting ruined the reading and writing ability of 11-year-olds. Turned out it didn’t. So she went back to the drawing board to find out what texting did do.

In her 2009 study, she took the 88 kids and had them text and describe 10 different scenarios. In a test, they studied the children’s reading and writing abilities. After comparing the results of both, they concluded that the kids that used the most ‘textisms’ – or, short forms of words with missing letters, or numbers replacing letters – in their descriptions, were actually better readers.

What she determined is that kids that text are getting pretty good at solving language puzzles, and they can spell just fine. The better they are at texting, the better spellers they are. Part of her conclusion was that if you can come up with and use these textisms in your lexicon, then you know when not to use them. She also looked at stories of students actually using textisms on tests and found that this was a rare occurrence.

Something else to consider is the amount of writing and reading that is done over the Internet. Texting and textisms is one thing, but an Ipsos study comparing Canadian and American Internet use, found that Canadians used the Internet an average of five hours a day. The way the world communicates with the web is through written language. Texting may only be the tip of the language iceberg.

Many youth are using a “youth code.” The most commonly used acronym was “wuu2” for “what are you up to?” While it is a bit odd to think of 11-year-olds using cell phones, what texting guarantees is that they are reading and writing something. Using 140 characters, I guess, is better than nothing.

The texting study doesn’t say anything about adults using cell phones, but it helps us communicate quickly enough. While we might not be getting any better at writing or reading, it’s reassuring that we can’t blame Telus or Bell Mobility for producing a generation of illiterate Jonas Brothers’ fans. We will reserve the right to blame them for outrageous bills and poorly built phones, however. So keep texting everybody, and if your parents pay for your cell phone bill, explain to them it might actually help you graduate.

While texting won’t hurt you, no one is saying you shouldn’t read books, or magazines – like you’re currently doing. Facebook or MSN instant messaging doesn’t exactly replace reading a novel, of course. Studies preformed have mixed conclusions on the value on Internet reading. It really depends on what the philosophy of education and what level educators expect children to achieve.

But, if you are a parent who wants your child to become a theoretical logician that could go back in time and argue with H.G. Wells about the value of Government and science, then perhaps letting little Jimmy read wouldn’t be the best way to go. If you are talking to the Nation Endowment of the Arts, like the New York Times did in the summer of 2008, they would agree with that. Little Jimmy shouldn’t consider the Internet reading. Sure, there are words on the screen, your eyes are scanning them, but you aren’t delving into a subject as you would if you were consuming Heart of Darkness. The argument is that by reading a novel, you grow the mind. The Internet is just a way to gather information and fact, not making Jimmy any smarter.

Other institutions discount the NEA’s uppity view on reading. Studies preformed by the University of Michigan and Michigan State University discuss that those who read on the Internet actually makes them read more. Given they aren’t reading Homer, but they are reading something.

For educators, the challenge may just be getting students reading. The same NEA study found that only one in five American secondary students say that they “read for fun.”  Yeah, one in five, which probably means you seeing that you’re reading this. While some studies are finding that technology and the Internet are making us better readers and writers, others say that technology is just changing the game, not raising the bar for reading and writing.

If you are starving on a remote island and a plane crashes full of Premium Plus saltines, then eat away, it will save your life. If you’re training to be an Olympic sprinter, the same diet would not benefit you in the least.

Text away, read all of the forums on the new episode of Gossip Girl, or House, or The Wire, whatever. But reading a book isn’t going to spoil the finely tuned Internet athlete that you’ve become. Saltines will not replace roast beef, and none of us are living on a deserted island devoid of literary experience. But I G2G, so TTYL, NEWB.

  1. I never knew texting could actually benefit you… OMG

    • s8529226
    • November 17th, 2009

    i should text more… i should start right now! OMG LOL OMFG TTFN ROTFLMAF

  2. ok S8529226 what does TTFN mean?

    :) M

  3. Love this article. Now I don’t feel bad that I’m a texting queen. LOL Violette L. Reid, author of “The First Chronicle of Zayashariya: Out of Night” and “Violette Ardor: A Volume of Poetry.”

  4. very interesting, if only i had been able to grow up on texting! haha

    • chunter
    • November 17th, 2009

    If anything, text messages have made the current generation good at something I am not: keeping my thoughts brisk and to the point.

    • freedomactionnow
    • November 17th, 2009

    OK, lets see just how well kids do write. Any examples? Anecdotal evidence from employers says that new hires cannot write well. As for speling, peeple have no idea how to spel – or even that its important or makes a diferense.

    PS: “TTFN” is British: “Ta-ta for now”.

    “The Internet is just a way to gather information and fact, not making Jimmy any smarter.”

    Considering that some of what you find on the Web is actual fact, I’d say it’s making him dumber, not smarter.

    Unless and until we can teach people critical thinking, we’re doomed as a society.

    • Paul
    • November 17th, 2009

    This was interesting: many people use sweeping generalizations to criticize modern communication, and it’s nice to hear this side of the argument.

    However, aside from the issue of whether or not it will inevitably destroy language, texting brings up a different argument: does the increased frequency with which kids are texting inhibit their social interaction skills, or enhance them? I’d like to read a study on that!

  5. I think it’s ridiculous how this generation has chosen to shorten all their words. El oh el!

  6. Totally threw me off with the lol I love that site. But hey at least I know I can graduate from college texting. :) …just kidding haha

  7. OMG. . . . . . excellent article. . . thank you

    • momromp
    • November 17th, 2009

    Huh. I’m speechless. Thanks for sharing!

  8. Amazing read

  9. ya, texting is just way easier, and that’s what our society is all about, how we can get the same answer, just faster and easier. and texting brings both to the table.


  10. i agree…texting is very crucial nowadays

  11. What’s the word on truncating? I totes hope it’s copacetic! Thx!

    • kareef
    • November 18th, 2009

    texting is crucial?

    as opposed to what??

  12. Well the first study that I read was written by Dr. Beverly Plester. It didn’t delve into critical thinking.

    But you are right, if we can’t analyze what we consume so easily then we are in a terrible position. But we should remember one thing above all. We can read.

    The fact that people are studying the minutia of actually what we are reading is outstanding. To follow my thinking look into where literacy was 200 years ago. Hell 400 years ago, we’re not priests, we’re not theologians but we can read which is I’m damn sure better than the average Joe’s of 1550 were able to do.

    We’ve come a very far in a very short time.

    Glad that you’ve enjoyed my article, look back for more soon.

    James R.

    • vesna
    • November 18th, 2009

    I recently read a similar article in Toronto Life that made a few excellent points.

    More often that not reading online is not reading, it’s scanning.

    Also, because today’s youth has grown up with the internet they are accustomed to having a plethora of information available to them at all times. Although there are many positive aspects to information being so easily accessible, what this means is that when doing research for homework, projects or essays, students intake information strictly on a need to know basis. They quickly find what they need, use it and forget it. In one ear and out the other.

    I realize that this is a huge generalization but there is a good point here.

    Research methods have changed and accordingly, so has the way in which we learn.

  13. Hmm it appears like your website ate my first comment (it was super long) so I guess I’ll just sum it up what I had written and say, I’m thoroughly enjoying your blog.
    I as well am an aspiring blog writer but I’m still new to everything.
    Do you have any recommendations for first-time blog writers?

    I’d really appreciate it.

  1. November 17th, 2009
  2. November 18th, 2009
    Trackback from : Like OMG. « Savory Dish

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