I will flat out admit it. I have no conception of the whole emoticons-abbreviations-acronyms-lingo that has permeated the social media stratosphere. I don’t Tweet, Twitter, Twizzler or whatever variation of a bird chirping sound that verb is supposed to denote. I generally get on Facebook to stalk that girl I may, or may not have, spotted in the supermarket (I can neither deny nor affirm that I, in fact, saw her), not to announce that “I just OrdEReD a Pepsi Maxxx mmm #deeelicious smiley face lol LMFAO I’msexyandIknowit.”
So, when I went online today to see if NBA star LeBron James had anything to say in response to Indiana Pacers benchwarmer Lance Stephenson doing the choke gesture to demonstrate James and the Miami Heat’s inability to perform in late-game situations, all I saw was a bunch of incomprehensible, poorly worded, grammatically offensive Tweets that look like they were written by David After Dentist, literally right after the dentist. Neither James, nor any other celebrityor prepubescent teen is to carry the blame for their flagrant violations against the English language. We are all culprits. Every one of us who misses a comma on Twitter or gaffes a contraction on Facebook is part of this new collective herd of felons murdering our next generation’s literacy.
There was a time where if I bought a Pepsi Max, I would do the sensible thing and, I don’t know, drink it. Nowadays, someone will first “check in” at the supermarket they bought this soda sweetness from, then proceed to take a high resolution picture of the can from their high resolution phone, then tweet and update the photo to their Facebook, then finally drink it. All while committing one violent crime after another against the English language with each sentence and every ill-conceived and poorly executed post.
Numbers do not lie. America has steadily been declining in educational aptitude on a year-by-year basis. The American education system isn’t exactly the biggest proponent of the “No Child Left Behind Policy” these days. In a 2011 comparison of academic proficiency, American students finished in the middle of the pack among 57 other countries. With continued cuts and endemic underfunding of the U.S. educational system, it is unlikely that American students will climb a few notches in the near future. To vary a quote from male model Derek Zoolander, “how can we expect kids to learn how to read if they can’t [afford to get] inside the building.” But, the U.S. education system is only part of the problem.
Blame does not solely start at the institutional level. It starts with every person who publishes something on the Internet without giving due consideration to the fact that millions of people may come across it. That’s not to say that decades ago, people were not as linguistically challenged as they are today. They may have just as well not known the difference between “your” and “you’re” or neglected to capitalize pronouns. The only difference is back then, people wrote in closed circuits; there was no unfiltered public medium of communicating with one another. If you wanted to send a message, you did it by letter or telegram or, hey, even a pigeon. Whatever your preferred means of transmittal, there was a good chance that the correspondence was going from person A to person B, not from person A to their 4,535,680 followers on Twitter.
To our generation, social media is only one of the sources of instant news -- news about the presidential elections in France, or about the Chipotle opening down the street from you. When we post a status update, we are not breaking the news, we are merely re-transmitting it to our audience. Our followers. The problem is, if you take every single Facebook status, tweet, blog, vlog, and tmblr ever published and annotate them to form one giant encyclopedia to tell an autobiography of our generation consisting of just status updates, you would be left with a disjointed diary of our times. A diary that is replete with appalling spelling and grammar mistakes. Everyone is now a self-proclaimed writer or critic by the mere click of a button. Each status publication often is as wildly disjointed and unrelated to the previous one. It is only a natural and foreseeable result of the social media’s uncontrolled medium of publication that a 12 year old who is constantly exposed to cryptic “abbrevs” and dangling participles will immediately lose interest after 150 characters.
I’m not proposing we start using multi-syllabic words and Latin terms in our tweets; rules of English construction should continue to evolve and incorporate new vocabulary and styles to reflect a changing times. However, we need to remain conscious of the fact that we are exposing future generations to the literary pollution we are emitting with each grossly misspelled and grammatically offensive tweet. It does not require much effort. Perhaps a good start is if – and just throwing this out there – we re-read and edit our posts before we press “enter”. Or perhaps it begins with myself. After all, I did commit a blatant grammatical error by ending my opening sentence of this article with a preposition.