Internet Illiteracy

I know this is an old subject by now. But I have to say something about it just because, no matter how much I’m exposed to it, it offends me to an extent.

I know: so what? There are lots of things to be offended about these days that matter more than this.

But, I ask you in return: really?

This country is behind in all the hallmarks of education. A lot of that is the atmosphere that says we can’t do competitive tests because it might undermine someone’s sense of self-worth. Well, if it does that to them, maybe they should get off their asses and study, do their best to up their grades. Yes, I realize there are folks who aren’t going to get good grades no matter what. And there are learning disabilities to contend with. But you know what? If you do your best, and you know you’re doing your best, you’ll be proud of that grade, no matter what it is. And that’s the kind of thing I’m talking about.

But when it comes to Internet illiteracy, there really isn’t an excuse, because it’s pure laziness. It stems from texting, I know that. I even understand it to an extent. It can be a bitch to type full words on a phone, or it could when they first started doing it. Small keys didn’t lend themselves to spelling things properly.

But when you got phones that’ll practically take dictation, there’s really no excuse.

I’ve always been a good speller, and I have to admit that spellcheckers have sabotaged that to an extent. I rely on the squiggly red line underneath far too much these days, and it all started back when I got a word processor that beeped at me when I misspelled something. That happens more frequently than I’d liked because my fingers get dyslexic on me a lot when I’m typing, and I misspell words more out of accident then because I don’t know how to spell. Still, the days before spellcheckers, when I had to rely on my own innate talent for spelling, I didn’t misspell words near as often. Nowadays, I have to check sometimes to ensure I’m spelling them right, and often on words I should know how to spell.

Or, maybe the older I get the worse my memory gets.

It took me years to realize two things: 1) It’s that I’m tall, not that everyone else is short (this came from once reading the average height of men is six feet—my height exactly); and 2) The ability to spell is not an indication of intelligence.

Let me explain that last.

There’s someone near and dear to me—who shall remain nameless—who is not a good speller. And yet, this person has an excellent vocabulary, both verbally and in writing. There are times when this person sounds a bit fake to me because this person uses words in conversation that most folks don’t. This person misspells words that often strike me as being no-brainers, and for years I’d wonder how this person could do that when they were so obviously intelligent.

For some reason, I equated good spelling with intelligence, and I’ve never figured out just why. It wasn’t conceit, at least not in the usual sense. I don’t consider myself especially smart, despite years of people telling me I am. I know a lot of the choices I’ve made, and I’m woefully aware of how ignorant I am about a lot of things, so I definitely don’t look at myself as an Einstein.

I’m constantly looking up the rules regarding grammar and punctuation, and I don’t use semicolons chiefly because I don’t know their proper use very well (besides that, I see them as largely unnecessary). And that’s just an example of my deficits as a writer.

But I know the basic rules. That, in a sense, gives me permission to break them, which I do with regularity. I use words like gonna and wanna not only in my dialogue, but in my exposition as well. Thing is, I know I’m breaking the rules, and I do it intentionally, with good reason. For one, it gives a better feel for how the character thinks. Most of us say “I’m gonna,” and “I wanna,” more often than we realize, as opposed to “I’m going to,” and “I want to.” And there’s an argument to be made for saying we’ll read it that way we commonly speak it, so why not write it properly?

Well, in my case, it’s to differentiate characters who do use it properly—and I have some who do—from those who don’t. I can use it to define a particular character, even if that’s a somewhat subtle way of doing it.

The point being, I know the rules, and I break them intentionally.

But what I see online doesn’t qualify as that. Yes, there are people who misspell. But, c’mon, folks. Are you really so lazy that you can’t hit the friggin’ Shift key to capitalize properly. I hate seeing those run-on sentences that are a paragraph long, with no periods, commas, or upper case letters. You know, stuff like omg you should have seen it today i went to starbucks n there was my old boyfriend matt n he turned and saw me and i almost lost it. Okay, that’s probably a sad example, or would be if folks these days didn’t seem to have an obsession with telling you every detail of their lives right down to their bowel movements. In some ways, my example is lame because I can’t seem to come up with how bad some of those things really are. My talent just won’t extend that far.

What makes it worse is when it comes from people who should know better. Again, the talent for spelling is taken into account. But, really, can’t you be bothered to learn the difference between the words to, two and too? I learned them the hard way in seventh grade by failing them on an English test—or I should say I learned to make sure I used them properly, because I actually knew the difference, but just didn’t bother to pay attention to the test—a constant failing of mine when it comes to academics.

I’m not going to get into the whole messy argument about our educational system and its obvious failings. I won’t point out the many ways in which it’s being dumbed down so numbers come up—everywhere, that is, except for elsewhere in the world, where it really counts. We could go on and on about that crap for days on end and never scratch the surface. Besides, if you want a shoutfest, just tune in to a cable news show.

I will say this, though: We have a personal responsibility to educate ourselves. My sister (-in-law. She doesn’t like me adding that, but I am simply for clarity in this case) is considering going back to school for a teaching certificate. Well, good for her. While I can’t claim to know her as well as I know a lot of other people, I know her well enough to say she’ll do it if she determines it’s the right thing for her to do. She has a determination I only wish I had. If I did (and if I’d chosen my college better), I’d be graduating this year with a BS in Network Management and hopefully getting a well-paying job. Instead, I have two years of online college that I can’t use for anything.

But Liz is taking personal responsibility for educating herself. As is my daughter. Neither of them is sitting around blaming someone else, or crying that they’re not getting an even break. Luck comes to those who make it themselves, in my opinion, and they’re doing that.

So, can’t we all start to at least make an effort to write things correctly when we’re online? I’ll be more forgiving when it comes to texting, but your keyboard—whether you use a desktop machine like I do, or one of the latest tablets—is big enough that you can at least make an effort to spell your words properly.

We’re coming off looking like a nation of idiots. My fear is that, by continuing down this path, we will not just look like a nation of idiots, but become one.

Okay, a worse nation of idiots than we already are.




9 thoughts on “Internet Illiteracy

  1. Greg Camp

    The things that I could say here would fill, um, the Internet. Even though I teach, I have to acknowledge that most of what I’ve learned about language–using it, writing it, and so forth–comes from my reading. What does that take? Work. As you say, for most people, the problem is laziness.

    I do have to remind myself that through most of human history, only a small percentage of the population was literate. The same is true today. Of course, now we offer everyone the chance to have a voice, so we notice idiocy all the more.

    1. rgayer55

      Greg nailed it. Giving idiots the opportunity to fill cyberspace with mindless blabbering would bound to lower civilizations two or three levels. WTF I just LOL at their stupidity. FYI I am DIY reader who’s SMH at their illiteracy. – HA!

    2. R. Bankson

      Please use proper unspaced em dashes, rather than en dashes, to set off an abrupt or parenthetical thought. This:

      “. . . about language–using it, writing it, and so forth–comes from my reading.” . . .

      . . . should look like this:

      “. . . about language—using it, writing it, and so forth—comes from my reading.”

      You can invoke the em dash by typing, on the numeric keypad, Alt-0151. The en dash (Alt-0150), as was used in the “about language” example, has functions altogether unrelated to the em dash, as in “Navy won, 17–10” and “Civil War–era weaponry” and “pages 130–35.”

      1. gilmiller Post author

        I actually type these out on my computer at home and upload them at the library by copying and pasting from a Word document. I use em dashes when writing them. I hadn’t noticed this, but I’d guess WordPress is turning them into en dashes. Or maybe it’s the font. Thanks for pointing this it, though, because I honestly hadn’t noticed. I’ll have to see if I can figure out what’s going on. May have to go through on my proof and manually replace their dashes using the Alt code. And I’m VERY familiar with it from my editing work.

  2. dagbdk

    You’ll notice that there are places on the internet where illiteracy tends to be less prevalent than others.

    To the author of the post: you considered doing network management as a college degree? Check out the FreeBSD forums, and compare the average literacy of posts there to any Windows forum.


    You write about illiteracy then write… “more out of accident then because…”. Confusion between “then” and “than” is one of the more offensive examples of “internet illiteracy”.

    1. gilmiller Post author

      Actually, I think it you read more of my posts, you’ll realize I know the difference. Making the occasional mistake and not catching it is not the same as being too lazy to type properly. I’m not the best typist in the world, and I challenge you to find a post where I claim perfection.

      I also challenge you to be as adept at catching marks in your own writing as you do in others. As a professional editor and writer, I can tell you it’s much easier to see it in someone else’s writing because you know what’s supposed to be there in your own, and your brain tricks you into seeing just that.


    Typos involve one letter next to another on the keyboard. Your issue here involves using the wrong word because you didn’t know the difference. It isn’t possible to hit an “e” instead of an “a” by accident. Don’t feel too bad, it is a very common mistake. Albeit an offensive one.

    1. gilmiller Post author

      I didn’t say a typo, I said a mistake. In other words, I typed the wrong word without realizing it, then didn’t catch it when I proofread it. And as you can see in the preceding sentence, I know how to use the two words properly. But hey, you believe what you want to believe.


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