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Instant Messaging:
A part of the web that is actively dumbing down Our Society...

Much of this portfolio is dedicated to promoting the impressive potential that the Internet has in the future of education.  While many of the components from the World Wide Web produce benefits of some kind for the learning process, there is still one Internet-based medium of communication that I find to be an outright detriment to a proper and well-rounded education, the constant use (or rather, the overuse) of Instant Messaging programs.  Now it is important to assert that this judgment on Instant Messaging is being reached strictly from an educational point of view, and therefore I won't deny that some Instant Messaging services like MSN and Yahoo may provide benefits in other ways for their users, especially because IM does provide excellent convenience for "real-time" communication.  However, from the point of view as a teacher of the Humanities, I personally find IM to be a particularly harmful element of the Internet, one that has been helping to inhibit communication skills in our youth.  I have also found that IM does not have the same potential effect to improve the quality of one's writing like E-mail Listservs and Blogs can, and I find that IM programs are becoming a catalyst for the continuing trend that sees the English language undergoing blatant oversimplification.  IM, in my opinion is helping to promote poor language skills, and an increased prevalence of slang-guage, where fewer and fewer words find themselves in the common lexicon.  Rather, our primary means of communication seems to be reduced to "unspecific" words like good or bad, where only corresponding emoticons can signify the full context of the idea being communicated.  I don't think this sort of thinking is over the top, especially when one sees an example of the direction our language and communication skills are taking...

2Cool4U >> A!! howRU??

MoonEm69 >> waitin 4 fav reality show 2 strt :-)

2Cool4U >> lol, wat an awsom 1 huh, do u hav time 2 chat b4 it?

MoonEm69 >> sup

2Cool4U >> feeln wacko ovr engl test comnup, BTW ru ready?

MoonEm69 >> >:-p

2Cool4U >> lol

MoonEm69 >> id pay 100bux 2 not haf2 do it

2Cool4U >> yea, TFB yo

MoonEm69 >> word

2Cool4U >> i h8 wen u haf2 to spl n rite for marx

MoonEm69 >> yup, o now my show is startin

2Cool4U >> cya later

MoonEm69 >> cya

Crazy foreign conversation?  Secret CIA Intelligence Code?? No, just your typical IM session between any two teenagers out there.  The main downside to the use of IM is that it takes place in real time.  While this may be the benefit of such communication for some, from an educational standpoint it is what ends up leading to the use of rushed, cut-corner writing skills.  Yes I made up the previous "interaction," but frankly it is an accurate representation of what passes for written communication among many of our youth these days.  It is no wonder why research is finding that today's children are becoming more prone to having spelling and grammar skills that are worse than the previous generation.  I don't have scientific evidence to back up this assertion, (these are reflections, not a research study), but I would postulate that with careful analysis and study, a researcher could find a direct and overwhelming correlation between declining written language skills and increased IM usage.  The more often this communication media is used, I theorize that a person becomes more comfortable with improper writing habits, and less familiar with the proper academic English writing style and structure.  Coupled with an annoying tendency for teachers to tell their students "that spelling and grammar doesn't matter, it won't be counted in your mark" we have created the perfect storm that could see the English language reduced to nothing more than a series of abbreviations, acronyms, digits, and emoticons.  This may sound like a stretch, but the reality is that IM programs have little-to-no educational value, and that is why I plain out refuse to sign up for an account, or participate in such absurd conversations.  I have seen people's IM interactions in the past, and have often found them to be confusing and sophomoric (<----now THAT'S good English writing skill right there!!).  This is very much unlike E-mail and Blog programs which at least allow, if not encourage, the user an opportunity to refine and revise one's writing for conciseness and clarity (if the person so chooses).  Also, in the competition for new users many E-mail and Blog programs are increasingly compelled to offer better tools for one to assess spelling and writing style.  IM specifically gears itself towards the usage of what I like to call the "stupid English," and if more teachers out there go and seriously examine IM interactions and other live chat rooms, they will agree with me that there is often very little to justify using Instant Messaging for learning:

The example above was taken from Reader's Digest online comment forum from a research article done about teenagers and how they perceive the relationship with their parents.  This is just a small example of the responses received from the minors who responded to the article.  In fact, the forum was almost a night and day comparison when looking at the written comments of the parents versus the comments of most of the teenagers.  One can often guess the age of the writer merely by glancing at the writing style (or lack thereof) that was used.  This particular Speak Out! comment topic does not appear to be available at www.rd.ca any longer, but I will still personally argue that the lack of grammar and spelling skills in many of the youth respondents was directly linked to too much IM usage.  I just may have my graduate thesis topic with this issue.  Once again, I am not trying to disparage any number of the non-educational benefits that IM can bring to the global communication process, but it must be noted that it is extremely difficult to take anyone's opinions or viewpoints seriously when they are written in such poor form. IM brings little to the Internet in education, and hence I don't spend any time with it.

I suppose it is worth mentioning that there are a few benefits to using IM, a big one being that MSN now allows each IM user account their own "public" folder for images and files that you want to share with the world.  As well, it provides a cheap (most often free) way to communicate in "real time" with people around the world (no per-minute charges like cell phones).  Then of course IM and chat rooms do have their anecdotes, like the time a boy in Chicago was able to help save the life of a college student in Finland through her pleas for help over an Internet chat room.  Instant Messaging will always be here to stay, but I feel it will continue to present a challenge to teachers who are trying to encourage their students to master the written word.  I suppose it is not fair to categorize all of our youth as falling prone to "chat-speak," but I find that Instant Messaging is making enough of an impact to warrant some attention.  Still, written language is quite vigilant, and it will take more than just MSN Messenger to kill off proper English, but it is starting to dig the grave.  Compare the "chat-speak" letters with some examples from children who can properly articulate their opinions and ask yourself, who really has the most convincing and valid points to make? ...

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