Jose Carillo's Forum


This section features discussions on education, learning and teaching, and language with particular focus on English. The primary subjects to be taken up here are notable advocacies and contrary viewpoints in these disciplines and their allied fields. Our primary aim is to clarify matters and issues of importance to language and learning, provide intelligent and useful instruction, promote rational and critical thinking, and enhance the individual’s overall capacity for discernment.

In defense of the digital revolution in communication

Its critics condemn modern communication technology as ruinous of the way humans should normally communicate as humans. They argue stridently that Facebook fosters false social relationships, that Google isn’t making us any better informed, and that texting erodes the capacity of people to spell words properly—in fact, that computer technology is destroying the very fabric of the English language itself. But Dennis Baron, a professor of English and linguistics at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, debunks such claims as uninformed nostalgia. In a new book, A Better Pencil (Oxford University Press, USA: 2009), he says that such fear and loathing of new reading and writing technology is actually nothing new.

In an interview with Salon magazine, Baron explains his rationale for writing A Better Pencil: “We hear a thousand objections of this sort throughout history: Thoreau objecting to the telegraph, because even though it speeds things up, people won’t have anything to say to one another. Then we have Samuel Morse, who invents the telegraph, objecting to the telephone because nothing important is ever going to be done over the telephone because there’s no way to preserve or record a phone conversation. There were complaints about typewriters making writing too mechanical, too distant—it disconnects the author from the words. That a pen and pencil connects you more directly with the page. And then with the computer, you have the whole range of ‘this is going to revolutionize everything’ versus ‘this is going to destroy everything.’”

In A Better Pencil, Baron traces mankind’s love-hate relationship with innovations in writing from the papyrus to the laptop, then examines the social impact of the latest communication innovations that have sprung from computer technology, such as e-mail, instant messaging, the web page, the blog, social-networking pages like MySpace and Facebook, and online resources like Wikipedia and YouTube.

In Salon’s September 24, 2009 issue, Vincent Rossmeier reviews A Better Pencil and shares with us his phone conversation with Baron about his book and his reaction to criticism that emoticons and text-speak are actually corrupting language.

Read Vincent Rossmeier’s “Is the Internet melting our brains?” in now!

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