Though critics accuse social media of hurting formal writing, actor and writer B.J. Novak claims social media makes better writers
As social media channels continue to grow in popularity, critics worry about the negative impact such technologies will have on formal, written communication. Believing these communications promote “penmanship for illiterates,” critics assert informal communication technologies will lead to the decline of written language, claiming “the English language has now become foreign” as social media prompts students to “forget the importance of proper grammar usage.” This past week, however, writer and comedian B.J. Novak took on the critics, saying, “I think there’s a chance we’ll have a better generation of writers than we’ve ever had because of the social media age.”
“[Social media] makes everyone aware of the minutia of conversation in literary form,” says Novak, explaining his logic. “A status update contains so much fear and hope and worry and fakery and inadvertent honesty and style and attempts to not try too hard.” People concern themselves so much with the details of their writing because “when you write on social media, there’s an audience. It could be people who’ve heard of you or it could be your seven best friends but you are very conscious of writing for an audience.”
I agree with Novak. The evolving form of social media based communication is an art form, reflecting careful thought. And, in being economic with character counts, social media promotes strong, succinct writing. The “time limit” on Snapchat, Instagram and Vine, and Twitter’s “text limit” have put users in the habit of weighing words and “sharing [themselves] in a symbolic way, in an economical way.” This in turn provides users the “ability to get to the point faster” in their formal writing. Consequently, “Short punchy sentences and active voice are taking over,” replacing lengthy prose. Using social media shorthand is in fact practice for condensing one’s formal writing. For example, linguist Ben Zimmer explains that adherence to character limits reflects the same process “that goes into writing a sonnet, of accepting those kind of limits.” Rather than leading to the devolution of written language, social media shorthand acts as a complement to formal writing.