Pew Internet in American Life logoToday the Pew Internet in American Life Project released a new report titled Writing, Technology, and Teens. The opening paragraph of the report states:

Teenagers’ lives are filled with writing. All teens write for school, and 93% of teens say they write for their own pleasure. Most notably, the vast majority of teens have eagerly embraced written communication with their peers as they share messages on their social network pages, in emails and instant messages online, and through fast-paced thumb choreography on their cell phones. Parents believe that their children write more as teens than they did at that age.

The core of the report focuses on what teens have to say about their own writing practices. The findings in the report span teen writing practices in and out of school and look at what mode teens use to write – long-hand or computer, the most common types of writing, and the impact of technology on teen writing behaviors.

It’s important to note that the report separates traditional forms of writing – reports, essays, short stories and such – from the contemporary writing that teens frequently are involved in – texting, email, blogs, etc. Reading the report I wondered, by creating this separation, do those behind the study send a message to teens that traditional forms of writing require a different type of analysis than the more contemporary forms of writing? Of course, the way teens write in technology-based environments is sometimes distinct from traditional writing environments, but can one really ask a teen to talk about their writing day and cordon off writing environments as separate entities? It seems that this question needs to be considered particularly since the the report includes the following:

Our focus group discussions similarly indicate that most teens do not regard their technologically facilitated text-based communication as “writing,” since writing is considered to occur in more formal settings, usually for school.

It’s possible that the actual study protocols helped to give teens that impression.

Part of the reason for the study was to see how writing is influenced by technology. It is possible that the separation was made in order to help uncover that data. However, when asking teens what writing they have done during the past year, and making the choices within that question specifically based in the traditional realm (essays and poetry but not email or text messages), do we end up sending a message to teens about what is valid when it comes to writing and what isn’t?

If we don’t recognize and acknowledge that teen writing in virtual and web-based environments is as valid as writing essays and poetry with pen and paper, then we take the chance of not giving teens the credit they deserve for using technology to express themselves in creative ways.

There is much useful information in this report about teen writing practices, access to technology, and teen daily use of technology. It’s worth a close read, even with the possible incongruity when it comes to defining what “valid” writing is.

About Linda W Braun

Linda W Braun is a YALSA Past President, the YALSA CE Consultant, and a learning consultant/project management coordinator at LEO: Librarians & Educators Online.

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