This week for our DISCOVER post, we’re pondering deep thoughts, like the power of language. Not exactly a subject to fit squarely in the span of a small blog post, but why not stop to pay homage to language’s immense versatility through the ages? Especially when these days a single word or simple catch phrase can go viral with the slap of a hashtag (#freedom; #WhatIMissMost)
Adapt Or Die
Communication. The quest for meaning and connection. Humanity thrives on it; in fact, our very survival hinges on it. But let’s take a closer look at the written word for a moment. There’s all this hubbub these days about kids not reading books anymore, about the degradation of our children’s lexicon and linguistic dexterity, not to mention the very real threat of cyberbullying, thanks to instant social media apps like Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram. But wait a minute. Social. Media. In the name of all that’s sacred in a tween’s social life, the written word is practically topping the charts! (Hell hath no fury like a teen torn from her text message.) Educators (and advertisers) know this all too well. There are more professional development conferences, new school strategies, and digital citizenship and Internet safety courses for students and parents surrounding social media sent to my inbox in a single day than there are Thin Mints in a Girl Scout’s cookie box. (*32 count. And texting, tweeting, and posting are arguably more addicting.)
Making Our Writing “Mind Ready”
Recently, Annie Murphy Paul wrote an interesting post about making our day-to-day writing “mind ready.” Apparently, new research suggests that individuals remember Facebook posts about 1.5 times more than they’ll retain the memory of a sentence from a book. One possible explanation is that, with so many stimuli bombarding us, our memories favor “natural, spontaneous writing over polished, edited content.” (*woozy, fastidious word lover keels over*)
But this brings us back to how we learn to best communicate in the first place. Memory and the social world have always played crucial roles in humanity’s survival throughout history. Murphy Paul points to researcher Christine Harris, who explains, “We learn about rewards and threats from others. So it makes sense that our minds would be tuned to be particularly attentive to the activities and thoughts of people and to remember the information conveyed by them.” Especially the tweet elite of our social circles.
From Murphy Paul’s post: “Our language capacity did not evolve to process carefully edited and polished text, notes author Nicholas Christenfeld. ‘One could view the past five thousand years of painstaking, careful writing as the anomaly. Modern technologies allow written language to return more closely to the casual, personal style of pre-literate communication. And this is the style that resonates, and is remembered.’” (Hmm…must be why quiet, literary novels always take a backseat to chick lit and Captain Underpants.)
One 7th grade student of mine, an avid writer, swears she can write stories better by text on her phone than on her laptop. “They just flow in this spontaneous way that I can’t seem to capture when I’m censoring everything on a bigger screen,” she explained to me. “And, I can get instant feedback from my friends.” Which brings us back to the power of language and its immense versatility.
Fresh, instinctive, quick-witted writing, like a natural beauty, is the linguistic runway’s perennial darling. It lingers longer in the reader’s mind and gains you the greatest amount of retweets. And, al natural (whether it rolls off your tongue or percolates first) is a style with which we’re all hard-wired. Now that, dear word lover, is a worthy rediscovery.
W.O.R.D. Ink team member Jacquelyn Wood contributed to today’s post.
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