“The internet will make us all stupid.”
Not an exact quote, but close enough to portray my Business English professor’s warning in the spring of 1996. It was my first semester back in college as I began a 3 year journey to earning my bachelors. It was also a year when the internet truly came alive on campuses across our nation. There were no WordPress or GoDaddy’s back then, just laborious hypertext coding, and it was a wild discovery which we had no idea would change the way we did… everything, basically.
But still, make us “stupid”? Seemed extreme. Seemed like the old guard having trouble with new management coming in and changing the way things were always done. That was until she clarified. “No accountability” (again, not an exact quote), she chimed, “No editors, no proofreading, no one caring enough to stop the bad grammar, misspelled words, or erroneous facts at the gate.” That made me rethink my initial response to her “stupid” claim. Perhaps she’s on to something. Perhaps she knows something — through 30+ years of teaching — that I wasn’t thinking. Perhaps.
The internet turned 25 years old this week. Twenty five years of giving a voice to anyone and everyone that had something to say — whether the rest of us cared or not. But it didn’t take 25 years to see the decline in our language — both in spelling and grammar. I dare say it took not even a year. Right off, year one for me (1996), I experienced a plethora of poor writing while using the internet to research course assignments. Even the “professional” journal links were littered with poor grammar and misspelled words. It was as if we all quit caring about details — language details — and it was eating me up. From there it only got worse because the “bloggers” in the 90’s became the journalists and writers of the aughts and beyond, carrying poor language skills from the internet to print. These days, it’s more common to find poorly written work than not, or it seems.
Attention to language details isn’t my high horse, but it does say a lot about the future. Most of all, it says that my Business English professor knew a thing or two that I didn’t.