Literary Legend Margaret Atwood Thinks Twitter Boosts Literacy

Writing is writing, even when it’s short, says Canadian literary legend Margaret Atwood.

Speaking downtown Toronto at the nextMEDIA conference on Monday, Atwood proclaimed that we should celebrate Twitter and other internet-based communications as drivers of literacy rather than something to be dismissed.

The CBC was able to hear from Atwood herself about what Twitter has to offer the world of literature, and where she thinks the roots of 140-character communication lie:

“A lot of people on Twitter are dedicated readers. Twitter is like all of the other short forms that preceded it. It’s like the telegram. It’s like the smoke signal. It’s like writing on the washroom wall. It’s like carving your name on a tree. It’s a very short form and we use that very short form for very succinct purposes.”

She went on to say that Twitter and the internet have helped, rather than hindered, people find a new love of reading. She believes that text-based communication like Twitter and SMS, while being short, improve reading and writing skills as they have replaced the telephone for many.

“People have to actually be able to read and write to use the internet, so it’s a great literacy driver if kids are given the tools and the incentive to learn the skills that allow them to access it.”

Atwood herself is, naturally, an avid tweeter. You’ll find her at @MargaretAtwood, and her Twitter stats are quite impressive: just under 7,000 tweets, 283,000 followers, and over 8,000 lists. And she is among a growing number of famous authors, like Salman Rushdie (@salmanrushdie), Neil Gaiman (@neilhimself) and Paulo Coelho (@paulocoelho).

There are some who believe that Twitter is dumbing down its users. By forcing people into 140-character thought patterns, the argument goes, it requires the use of “txt spk” (such as replacing “you” with “u” and other offenses to the grammatically-correct) and dilutes language.

However, Atwood and those agreeing with her would counter this by simply arguing that since Twitter is text-based, it requires an increased reading ability than, say, talking on the phone. It is a commitment to words, not a passive experience.

Where do you stand on the issue? Is Twitter dumbing down its users, or could it be a tool to improve literacy? Let us know in the comments below.

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