Lisa the Grate – social media and literacy


I had a girlhood crush on an older student called Lisa.

This was during my primary school years. Lisa seemed to have everything. She had lovely clothes and lots of ‘em. She changed her hairstyle regularly. She had many friends and was confident and happy and somewhat aggressive and loud. She had a cool big sister who went to high school.

But one day I had the chance to see a note that Lisa had handwritten. In it, she spelled ‘great’ as ‘grate’. And that was the end of my crush.

I was stunned. How could Lisa (a year older than me) have possibly spelt ‘great’ incorrectly?

Of course, I still see people – all sorts of people – misspelling words. I see poor grammar. (I know my grammar is not top notch and yet that doesn’t stop me from writing. I just cross fingers and hope my readers will bear it). I see misplaced apostrophes and lack of appropriate capitalisation and text speak and words run together like a long hashtag.

And I know, from my Lisa the Grate experience onwards, that it’s not social media’s fault.

Social media and reading aren't mutually exclusive
Social media and reading aren’t mutually exclusive

Yet I continue to hear others blame social media – and the internet age – for a decline in literacy standards and personal communication standards in general. To me, this seems like donning the perennial rose-coloured glasses. Were youngsters ever lauded for their spelling and speaking skills? (Not in the ‘children should be seen and not heard’ era, that’s for sure …)

To my mind, the popularity of social media supports the importance of literacy and spurs us on to communicate.

We’re encouraged to write, tweet, blog, share, post and read more than ever before.

You can’t turn on a TV or radio station without hearing someone ask for you to contribute your written opinion. “Tweet us”, “follow us” “tell us your thoughts and we’ll read them out on air”.

Emails are a more prevalent form of communication than an office catch up.

Many people would prefer to text rather than make a voice call.

This means we’re asked to write and to write and to write and to write. And we’re asked to read and to … you get the picture.

And no – that doesn’t mean we’re better spellers. But heck, we have more of a chance of absorbing sound writing conventions if we’re writing and reading more.

I was delighted, after doing an online search on this topic, to see Margaret Atwood support this concept. She’s one of my favourite authors. According to the article:

‘Thanks to the rise of the internet and of social media, “I would say that reading, as such, has increased. And reading and writing skills have probably increased because what all this texting and so forth replaced was the telephone conversation,” she continued. “People have to actually be able to read and write to use the internet, so it’s a great literacy driver if kids are given the tools and the incentive to learn the skills that allow them to access it”.’

Every day I’m served up thousands of tweets linking to thousands of articles. It actually gets a bit much. I know that I can read (and comment on) articles containing inspirational ideas, pondering the future, analysing news and just having some plain ol’ fun.

Ten years ago, I listened to a lot of music, read novels, watched free to air television, skimmed through the weekend newspapers and rented movies from the local Video Ezy. I certainly wasn’t fed a stream of content from around the world and many different voices. Today, I read and write more than ever before.

I’m also a member of  a Book Club that came together due to social media connections and thrives on social media. Our ‘Books in Pubs’ is made up of Twitter pals; we have a private Facebook Group where we discuss our reading; we use the #booksinpubs tag on Facebook and a lot of us use the Goodreads app to share our reading progress and reviews.

I can also follow some of my favourite authors – Margaret Atwood (again) on Twitter, and Lee Child on Facebook are two examples. Social media enables me to keep up with what they’re doing and interact and generates excitement for their new releases.

Meanwhile, I’m not sure how Lisa is faring.

Maybe her spelling has improved. I suspect it hasn’t. In which case, I’m glad I’m not her Facebook friend because I don’t think I would enjoy her status updates …

7 Comments Add yours

  1. The collective other (“they”) say that with the rise of the Internet we are becoming dumber. On intuition this is hard to believe. How could we possibly be getting dumber if we have access to more knowledge? But as you rightly mention, we are bombarded with knowledge. And I argue, we don’t spend enough time clarifying it. To sit in front of Google Reader for 2 hours isn’t the same as reading a chapter or two of a book. Consuming the former is thwart with distractions: we skip from article to article without absorbing the content fully and perhaps reconciling it with another ideas. Then there are the links within articles which take us on an infinite journey down the path. We started reading an article about preserving tomatoes and a short while later we’re reading about the Inquisition.

    Just as writing should be practiced I believe that reading should be complimented by white space—space in which we can connect the dots, throw out the old and irrelevant and attempt to properly understand the new.

    1. Prakky says:

      Thanks Paul; very wise words. There are different types of reading – there are also different types of readers. Some are able to skip around and absorb details while for others no doubt it ‘goes in one ear and out the other’. 🙂

      It’s a bit like the debate about comics / novels /graphic novels and children reading. I’ve often heard it said that if kids are reading comics “at least they’re reading at all” and it’s seen as a positive.

  2. Patricia - social media wallflower says:

    Agree! Same also applies to many video games. Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood taught my 14 year old as much about medieval Monteriggioni (Florence) as a piece of historical prose might have.

    Personally, I like reading social media, especially stuff outside my own subculture. At the very least, the vernacular can give interesting insights into language evolution.

  3. Certainly there’s a lot of reading material available via social media. But social media can also be mesmerizing, and steal a lot of time that would once have been used for book reading. Even at my age, I find I’m spending time on Facebook, reading a lot of dross, and often have to tell myself “Switch it off, and read something decent”. Kids have so many more entertainment options now, and book-reading has slipped down the list.

  4. Paul - The Kind Little Blogger says:

    Patricia, you raise a very interesting point. A video game taught your son some new knowledge in a way that was probably more enjoyable than a history class. However, how were you know that what was being taught was based on historical fact? I think it would be a pity to feel as though you’re getting a history lesson and then to find out the story is false.

  5. Patricia - social media wallflower says:

    True. But as with school text or any other text, we educate our children on how to contextualise the author. This way he/she can make an educated assessment not between fact and fiction, but between points of view.

  6. seascapesaus says:

    You have put a new slant on this issue Prakky. The doom and gloom side has been heard a lot. This style of writing (and reading) needs to be put in the context of relative spontaneity and informality. In this setting I can write and even read more easily these days. Book club was difficult because I rarely finished a book as I hated sitting down for long except on the train to work. Computers help me sit down!

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