Editorial: phones are good for our brains and our language

Kieri Karpa, Head Layout Manager

As a teenager, the only consistent thing in my life is being told that texting is rotting my brain. But the truth is, texting is beneficial for cognitive function and language development.

Texting has been found to help cognitive functions. According to Dr. Jim Taylor, a professor at the University of San Francisco, modern media improves “visual-spatial capabilities, [increases] attentional ability, reaction times, and the capacity to identify details among clutter.” Taylor finds that instead of making students stupid, technology is wiring them differently.

For instance, students are no longer required to memorize information in the same way past generations needed to. Instead of memorizing the information, they memorize where to find it, which Taylor says can “allow [the brain] to engage in more “higher-order” processing such as contemplation, critical thinking, and problem solving.”

According to David H. Jonassen, a former professor at Penn State University who passed away in 2012, “when students work with computer technology, instead of being controlled by it, they enhance the capabilities of the computer, and the computer enhances their thinking and learning.”

This is because when technology is used correctly, it facilitates thinking rather than take from it. Jonassen said cognitive tools, like computers, “empower the learners to think more meaningfully and to assume ownership of their knowledge,” because they allow a learner to think more productively.

Cognitive functions don’t just include visual-spatial capabilities, attentional ability, reaction times, and identifying details, it also includes language. Jonasses said that “the most pervasive cognitive technology is language,” so it’s important that students are able to effectively use language.

Many people believe that technology is destroying language, but according to John McWhorter, an American academic and linguist who is Associate Professor of English and Comparative Literature at Columbia University, texting is actually “an expansion of [young people’s] linguistic repertoire.”

McWhorter also said, “the argument that texting is “poor writing” is analogous to one that the Rolling Stones is “‘bad music’ because it doesn’t use violas.”  This is because texting is more like speech than writing.

Learning how to text along with traditional formal writing makes a person bidialectal (able to use two different dialects) in terms of writing.  McWhorter said, “being bilingual is cognitively beneficial. That’s also true of being bidialectal. That’s certainly true of being bidialectal in terms of your writing.”

Texting is even “developing its own kind of grammar and conventions.” For example, acronyms are not usually meant to be taken literally, instead they are meant to convey the mood of the conversation.

McWhorter has found that “people banging away on their smartphones are fluently using a code separate from the one they use in actual writing, and there is no evidence that texting is ruining composition skills.”

No matter what your teachers or your parents tell you, your social media and texting are not bad for your communication skills. Keep texting and talking online and together we can keep evolving our online language.