I am copying this headline (which translates, so I read, as Good Game Newbie – either a form of congratulations to a new player or a disdainful put down) from a review in the September 5 issue of the TLS. The article is not yet available online, but you can read about the two books under revew at other sites. Take a look at Always On by Naomi Baron, www.amazon.com/Always-Language-Online-Mobile-World/dp/0195313054 (there is more about the book at the Oxford University Press site), and The Prodigal Tongue by Mark Abley www.curledup.com/prodtong.htm
Based on the review, I see much of interest to us. On the one hand, the reviewer cautions against a tendency in both books — in fact all books on how modern communications media are changing how we communicate. The easiest, and most attention-getting, stand to take is the one I blogged about this summer — the Atlantic Monthly article about Google making us stupid. Anyone can find new phrases and expressions flickering across the internet and announce that reading, or the English language, or the civilization as we know it, is dying. Jonathan Hope, the TLS reviewer, points out that these two books really show English changing, evolving, under new social conditions, as it always has. As Hope says, "new words are pretty obvious evidence of change — but new words don’t produce change."
So I think the big picture scare story — much like the many studies and reports announcing the death of reading, the end of the book, the demise of good publishing — is not valid. But just because the framing arguments are off or exaggerated, does not mean we should skip these books. Abley’s book includes a close description of a 13 year old "playing an on-line war game" — I want to read that, and I suspect many of you will. And Baron’s book is based on research she did on how her undergraduates used digital media between 2001 and 2006 — again great source material.
We do not need to run screaming for our dictionaries and fear the death of language. But we do need to understand how language, and reading, and communications function for young people who were born with gleaming joysticks in their hands. Let me know if you read either of these books before I do, I’d love to hear what you think of them.