Speaking vs. Writing in the World of Technology

My sister is a talker. Growing up, she was able to convince my parents of much more than I could. In high school, she was her class president. As her college education comes to a close, she finds herself working for a company in customer relations. She has her verbal language skills to thank. There have been times when she’s asked me to look at her writing, and while it is by no means painful to read, it’s obvious that verbal language is her forte. Janet Emig’s article made me think of my sister; she supports Emig’s theory that speaking and writing are distinct. In tutoring, I have found this to be especially true.

The other day I was tutoring an ESL student who often gets comments like “Explain further” and “I don’t understand this” scribbled in the margins of her paper. The irony of it is that when I ask her to explain it to me or help me understand, her explanations are as clear as a cloudless sky. Her verbal struggles are minimal, but her writing is an entirely different ballgame. Last semester I tutored a student who came to me because she had a hard time writing her ideas clearly. When it came to verbal explanations, there was no confusion. Oftentimes, I would transcribe what she told me. These students were articulate just not in writing. This made me wonder, what is more important for rhetoric and life in general, speaking or writing.

In Aristotle’s world, I imagine he would choose speaking. Being able to verbally persuade someone was more common and valued than writing; verbal language could reach almost anyone, regardless of education. In today’s world, I’m not sure what side Aristotle would be on. While print media is declining in popularity, newspapers, for example, are becoming a dying art, written communication is on the up and up. People not only need to know how to write, but what their writing might mean. For example, an e-mail sent entirely in all-caps is going to send a different meaning than one that isn’t. A person who writes a sarcastic message without the “j/k” at the end or a winking face may find themselves in an unintended predicament. How a person writes or types their message has a big impact on what that message means. Has the value of written communication changed with the influx of technology?

I think Eldrid discusses this issue in her article. Suddenly, Composition classes are being filled with words like blog and podcast, Twitter and Facebook. In the increasingly interdisciplinary world, technology is seeping into everything, including Comp. classes. I think it is important for all classes to incorporate technology and new media into learning. I don’t think Comp. teachers should be fluent in HTML or be able to teach coding, but I think any incorporation of new media is better than none at all. Some technological knowledge is crucial to survival, no matter what field a person is in.

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