Does My Phone Make Me Less Literate?

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Short answer: yes.

I love to read, mostly non-fiction as I love to learn. But I normally read in short spurts instead of for hours at a time because I get wrapped up in the ideas that my brain is producing in reaction to this. Combined with the last post in this series that examined how my smartphone makes it accessible for me to throw musings out there in writing instead of losing thoughts to the oblivion, I have incentive to stop reading every few pages.

However, I also have incentive to start again. Access to the internet or texting other people with immediate thoughts keeps me engaged in the subject itself if not the book I’m reading. It may take me longer to read things, but I have never been quick to finish books anyway. It’s my mind that distracts me; it drifts on its own and it always has, particularly with non-fiction that has so much knowledge, insight, and wisdom to absorb.

So I suppose the long answer is it makes no difference. I don’t use much shortform when texting, and as the introduction to this series stated, that’s different from most people in all age brackets. My grasp of language and grammar and spelling is barely lost through the habits this forms. I may use more sentence fragments and remove subjective pronouns to keep things shorter, but that’s a stylistic approach just as much as it is a convenient shortcut. As talking and writing get cheaper and cheaper, we can express thoughts in their raw form that’s still understandable and doesn’t need to be fully developed into a thesis before being offered into general discourse.

The word “literate” is so ambiguous anyway. The choices somebody makes in self-expression doesn’t necessarily reflect limitations in what they can read or write. Educated people can choose to write in an accessible vernacular, by using phrases like “common language” or “the way people talk” instead of “an accessible vernacular” or other loquacious garbage.

I can read things on my phone just as I can on paper, although it’s a little harder to pay attention or to bother scrolling all the way through when there are only a few words per line and the gist has already come across nicely. I can read entire books if I wanted to squint at a tiny screen and didn’t treasure the experience of turning pages and feeling the texture of book-quality paper. I play word games and I get competitive with spelling and grammar accuracy in text messaging conversations. It isn’t decaying my brain or the part of my brain that’s stimulated when using language, but it’s enabling others to communicate with me in their shorthand style.

Let’s meet halfway between the short answer and long answer and say that it’s the question that’s the problem, not the answer nor my phone.

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