Posts Tagged ‘social

28
Apr
08

Are we becoming a little illiterate?

Everywhere you turn, every form you fill out and every job you apply for asks about your technical literacy. How good are you on computers and other technologies? Do you know how to use the internet? And what about Excel? But the question is what happened to plain old literacy.

After doing a bit of research into the mobile phone’s impact on literacy I found a whitepaper from mobile makers, Nokia, looking at developing new cell phones that will allow illiterate people to use them effectively. This would include using more icon based interfaces, with minimal features, automated phone settings, spoken menus and audio feedback.

I found this rather alarming. The United Nations estimates that 799 million adults are illiterate, the majority of these come from underdeveloped areas like South Africa. Surely instead of just developing a new cell phone that illiterate people can use easily, they could put that funding towards teaching people to read and write? While logistically, and financially this may not even be an option, in an ideal world it would happen.

What I am more concerned about is not so much people who are currently illiterate and using mobile phones but people who fall into the category of being literate and are using cell phones.

With mobile phones having such potential in terms of use, there is no need for you to find information in the library, everything is at your fingertips. If you need to check a fact, you can use Google off your phone. If you are bored no longer do you have to (gasp) pick up a book, you can simply log onto Meep, Mxit or Facebook and chat to your friends.

This weekend I was marking first year assignments and was horrified when I stumbled upon an assignment that was using the shorthand that is often used in sms.

I was presented with sentences like “This yr Scifest Africa wil b held in Grahamstown, and u can chck out th 500 events.”

This is what is being presented in an academic assignment, and this is one of the milder examples. When I Facebook my younger sister I cannot for the life of me understand what she is saying to me. Half the letters are not there and there are funny little icons in the middle of words. Here is a taste of what I have to decipher:

“Hey trace.lol bout work!skool is goin kewl&goin wel en u?Hwz da digs&hw are ur frends.Spk2amy da oth day.brb!”

I think it may be important to note here that not only does my sister attend a private school, she also appears to be passing.

UNESCO defines illiteracy as a ‘person who cannot with understanding both read and write a short simple statement on their everyday life.’ I would categorise any student who wrote their assignments in the shorthand used in sms as illiterate, or at least having a degree of illiteracy.

With having cell phones moving towards a more visual and voice based functionality, where will people learn to read and write properly? Kids are communicating on Mxit using this odd language and it is being transferred to academic work, without them even realising it. Whether this is laziness and a lack of proofreading or it is subconscious I will never know. The problem is here. The question is what do we do about it?