The best writers in the history of the world are graduating from college, right now. So everyone can just shut up about how no one can write anymore.
Newsflash: No one could write in the Middle Ages, when the good writers wrote in Latin and everyone else spoke colloquial languages like French and English, which priests told them were too lame for real writing.
It's the same situation today in that the best way to have a population of good writers is for people to write constantly, in the language that is theirs, so that they are great at expressing themselves.
People do good writing every day, in social media—when they write a note on someone's Facebook wall, when they post a caption to a photo on flickr, or when they post a comment in a group on Brazen Careerist.
The people who are complaining that no one can write anymore are the same ones who are stressed about information overload. This is not a coincidence. Information is changing, the flow of ideas is changing, and written communication is changing with it. Information overload is the feeling of not being able to deal with this change. Young people do not feel information overload, which is another sign that they are excellent writers for the new millennium: They can process and communicate new ideas at the new pace.
The people who tell you who can write and who can't are the people who don't want language to change. They don't want ideas to change. They don't want people to talk in ways that are new to them.
And now, for all you doubters, I present the research to end all research. It comes from Andrea Lunsford, a professor of writing and rhetoric at Stanford University. She has conducted the Stanford Study of Writing, which includes about 15,000 writing samples from students from 2001 — 2006. The always-interesting Clive Thompson reported her findings in Wired magazine:
First, only 38 percent of the writing young people do takes place in the classroom. Prior to the Internet, almost all writing people did was for the classroom. The increased amount of writing that young people do outside the classroom these days is so significant that Lumsford calls it a paradigm shift.
Second, the type of writing that students do—via IM, Twitter, Facebook, and so forth—is actually great for building communication skills. Thompson writes that, “Lunsford’s team found that the students were remarkably adept at what rhetoricians call kairos“?assessing their audience and adapting their tone and technique to best get their point across. The modern world of online writing, particularly in chat and on discussion threads, is conversational and public, which makes it closer to the Greek tradition of argument than the asynchronous letter and essay writing of 50 years ago.”
Third, the students have an acute sense of what good writing is because they are almost always writing for an audience. Lumsford found that students are writing mostly to debate, organize, or persuade. This is much more demanding writing than most of the writing students do for school. And, in fact, students in the Stanford study were not as enthusiastic about writing for school because they felt that the only purpose was to get a grade.
Finally, for those of you who think students don't know how to write in full sentences, you are the people who probably don't understand how to use text as a persuasive medium.
Lumsford finds that students are adept at making their point heard across a wide audience. And a study about Twitter, reported in Fast Company, shows that the text most likely to go viral—that is, the most persuasive text—does not have abbreviations or emoticons, the evidence most cited of a crisis in modern writing skills. Which means that students probably know intuitively to use texting slang only when texting.
Which makes me think that the people who are most worried that kids today don't know how to write are the people who are most unable to write for an audience.
In the history of western thought, the first thing to happen when there was a paradigm shift was that the writing shifted, (Chaucer’s stories of common people and Martin Luther‘s translations of the Bible come to mind). And the first people to complain were those who had a stake in keeping things the same. So ask yourself, do you want to be part of the next period in history, or do you want to be a person representing the futile force in history that tries to hold us back?