In the Septemeber 19th issue of NEWSWEEK is a story on page 11 with the headline, “Texting Makes U stupid.” It starts with, “The good news is that today’s teenagers are avid readers and prolific writers.” The subheadline reads, “The U.S. is producing civilizitional illiterates.” Author Niall Ferguson then points out that last year Nielsen found Americans between the ages of 13 and 17 send and receive an average of 3,339 texts per month. Teenage girls, 4,000.
With that quotation in mind, I thought Ferguson was going to say something nice about texting; that he was going to find some value in it, but I was disappointed. He didn’t point out what digital dexterity these teenagers must have. He didn’t point out they have invented a simpler form of the language, i.e. “C u later NOT L,” except in a derisive way.” Here is a man complicating the language using words like “civilizational.” Nowhere on the page does Mr. Ferguson say something positive about this “unmissable trend.”
And what’s the cure for this blemish on the behind of mankind according to Ferguson? Book camp. Reading Virgil’s Aeneid, Ovid’s Metamorphoses and so on; the books on the Columbia University undergraduate core curriculum list.
The author admits he sends 50 e mails a day and receives 200, but he adds in a bit of sarcasm he reads books too as part of a “quaint old habit I picked up as a kid.”
I submit Ferguson picked up another quaint habit as a kid and it is a negative view of anything new. Today he fails to see any good in something that statistics imply is a prodigious phenomenon in our culture. Gee, Naill, it can’t be all bad.