The Hank Moody Effect-Is Online Communication Evolving or Devolving?

In a faculty meeting last week, we made a list of tech and organizational skills that we felt students should have in our first, second and third week of school starting next fall. We generated some great ideas and prioritized them based on what was "essential" early on and what could be shelved for later.

A student writes me a chat message in the hangouts window.

One of the topics that came up was "How to write a letter to your teacher". Whereas generally, my students do have good letter writing skills, when students chat with me via gmail I occasionally get these emoji encrusted letters with cute faces and an incoherent message as seen above. Somehow, this made me think of the current US presidential election and all of the online vitriol flung back and forth between candidate supporters and decreased civility and openness to different opinions. It also made me think of Hank Moody.

The Hank Moody Effect
Hank Moody is a charachter played by David Duchovny in "Californication"and in a recent scene, Henry Rollins interviews Hank Moody's character and asks what he's interested in thinking or writing about. Hank had this great appraisal:

"The fact that people seem to be getting dumber and dumber.  People, they don't write any more, they blog. Instead of talking, they text. No punctuation, no grammar. It's LOL this and LMFAO that. It just seems to me like a bunch of stupid people pseudo communicating with a bunch of other stupid people in a protolanguage that resembles more of what cavemen used to speak rather than the king's English." 

Was it always like this? Or is this a step forward from not being able to talk with random strangers at all? Sherry Turkle was an early pioneer in this emerging field of technology and her TED talk: "Connected, but alone" is a interesting by slightly dystopian vision of how accessibility to the world has created small "sips" of text or conversation that has given everyone a voice, although many young adults don't know how to pivot on cues in real time. 

I think there's hope for my students and the future. They just have to be taught how to do it; so that's what I'm going to do now.


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