As texting and social media become more widely used, high school students are experiencing a drop in their ability to properly utilize formal language. Over the past ten years, the use of technology in communication has exploded and communication has shifted from predominantly verbal conversation to primarily text-based digital messaging. A general correlation between these two factors can be established as technology is the major agent of change in the modern world and the social lives of high school students and as formal language is used with decreasing frequency among the new generation. The application of formal language has also dropped among students as new slang terms become more widely used and the lines separating formal and informal English are blurred. This change in formal social skills and lack of face to face communication is shaping teens to be less social and more prone to underdeveloped verbal social skills, which may have a major negative impact on future society. This claim that social media is causing formal language to decay is rather important as it represents a trend in cultural change that may be shaping society into a new, more reclusive, environment.
The use of social media, texting, and other forms of virtual communication has increased in popularity over the past ten years. This increase has occurred primarily due to the increase in technology available to children, teens, and adults in a broad, expanding, variety of areas. An example of this pervasion of technology in modern life can be observed with the increased use of mobile devices with internet access. Telephones and computers, in the past, were tethered to the walls of homes and businesses and were used infrequently in restricted, purpose driven, situations. As technology advanced, phones slowly became mobile and allowed people to communicate in a variety of situations and to use long distance communication for more personal and recreational purposes. Mr. Bays has taught a variety of high school subjects in the past and is currently teaching Calculus at the STEM Early College at NC A&T. He feels as though social media is used a lot more outside of the class room now than it was in the past. He has also witnessed an increasing number of his students carrying personal devices that keep students connected and available to communicate through the web at all times (Bays). Texting and the internet allow messages to be transferred easily and asynchronously between individuals regarding any topic from a business correspondence to a status update. As social media emerged, individuals found that by making profiles, others could view information regarding their desired personality and communications could be distributed easily to large groups. As new technology was introduced and popularized, communication moved from being more verbal, quick, personal, and spontaneous to being more typed, slow, distant, and deliberate.
Professor White, a youthful African American instructor at NC A&T University, teaches in The Department of Biology and studies the learning dynamic created between students and teachers. She stated that students tend to better assess their thoughts and refine their study skills when they have a genuine interest in their classes and course material and that social media often distracts students, makes them less passionate about their course material, and decreases their metacognitive ability. She also feels that new forms of informal language are evolving and that the barrier between formal and informal language is being blurred in the minds of students (White). Social media is having a negative impact on formal education as it distracts students from their coursework and prevents them from focusing on educational improvement. The informal language used with social media is also being drilled into the hearts and minds of students, who are not always able to separate the formal English they learn in school from the informal language they use online.
Ms. Lassiter, A young African American woman with relatively short, straight, black hair and glasses, is currently teaching English and serves as the academic advisor to juniors at the STEM Early College. She feels that social media, even though it can help with communication, hurts verbal communication skills as students are typing rather than speaking and have difficulty appropriately completing group projects (Lassiter). This is especially true in environments involving students that are struggling with English or where English is their second language. Often, students make use of informal language rather exclusively when not at school and are barely ever given a chance to practice formal English with friends or on social media. If students don’t hear and see formal language on a regular basis outside of school, it can become difficult for them to determine what type of language a situation requires and how that language should be applied.
Ms. Cardwell, An older white woman serving as the student counselor at the STEM Early College, stated in an interview that students tend to write “the same way that they text.” She has noticed that students are becoming less comfortable with face to face communication and are making use of more informal writing both in email correspondences and on written assignments (Cardwell). The use of technology has been responsible for many positive changes in the world, such as the increase in the availability of information and products on a global scale, but has interfered with interpersonal communication. Modern students rarely take time to talk with one another when they are not forced into social situations. Social media decreases the chances that a relationship will properly develop and the information presented through social media can be overwhelming (Cardwell). Social networking sites allow for the generation of a large network of friends, which a user is likely not close to. If a student has five hundred friends on a social media website and is only close to five percent of those friends, they may end up maintaining twenty five separate relationships. This dilutes one’s focus and prevents the development of a single, meaningful, relationship. This can also provide an overwhelming amount of information, which can distract from more important tasks, such as school work.
Kyle Donaldson, an African American high school student with glasses and red Skull Candy earbuds plugged into his phone, frequently uses social media and texting to communicate with friends in informal situations. He often makes use of “texting words” such as “lol,” “u,” and “gn.” He feels that these terms make it easier to communicate with friends and claims to know when they are and are not appropriate (Donaldson). Maggie Tran, a small, Asian, high school junior with long, straight, black hair, does not use social media on a regular basis and feels that it is distracting and pointless. She is naturally quiet and often keeps to herself, but can be outgoing when she wants to be. She stated that she makes use of online messaging services, such as Google Hangouts and Skype, when working on group projects for school, such as Real World Design Challenge (Tran). Slang terms and acronyms can become incorporated into one’s vocabulary and applied exclusively in informal situations. Some individuals, however, are not able to maintain the separation between formal and informal vocabularies and prefer to avoid excessive use of informal language. Despite these negative attributes, virtual communication does have its place in modern education. Ms. Lassiter stated that she often posts group discussions on Blackboard and requires her students to type all of their essays to expedite the grading process (Lassiter).
Although the long term effects of this change in the structure and function of society are not yet known, it is likely that a large portion of current students will graduate from high school and college institutions with a lowered degree of social ability. This current conditioning of students to make use of technology for communication has decreased their ability to appropriately use formal language, and has restricted their verbal communication experience. Thus, the next generation of verbal and physical professional communicators such as sales representatives, customer service representatives, and retail workers may require a higher degree of training to become proficient in communication with members of society. This is a problem to be tackled in the near future as, in the words of Mr. Bays, “Obviously, the majority of people support this new technology and are willing to deal with the changes it brings” (Bays).
Bays, Samuel. Personal interview. 13 November, 2014.
Cardwell, Susan. Personal interview. 12 November, 2014.
Donaldson, Kyle. Personal interview. 13 November, 2014.
Lassiter, Sharon. Personal interview. 17 November, 2014.
Tran, Maggie. Personal interview. 14 November, 2014.
White, Angela. Personal interview. 12 November, 2014.