I’m going to date myself a bit here (and sound like someone’s grandparent talking about “back in my day…”), but I grew up in the pre-Internet, mostly pre-computer days. And the advantage to that is that my examples of writing were predominantly published books and newspapers. Everything I read had been through some form of formal vetting process where someone checked to make sure that words were spelled properly and certain grammatical conventions were followed.
Now, with the advent of the Internet, most of my daily reading revolves around blogs, on-line news sites, on-line forums, and random Facebook posts. It’s great in the sense that I have far more exposure to far more ideas than ever before. But it’s awful for anyone who absorbs things subconsciously like I do. I really think my ability to spell is slowly dying between the Internet and spellcheck. And I don’t even want to think what it’s done to the poor kids who are growing up with only the Internet for examples of proper writing.
Yesterday, I was on a writers forum and saw someone use “weather” when they meant to use “whether.” Then I went to another forum where the spelling of some of the users is so bad that I just have to read the posts phonetically and saw the same damned thing. (Ten years from now I wonder if there will have been some sort of shift in the accepted spelling of whether thanks to the Internet and how it spreads bad habits.)
The worst is when I read on-line news sites and see issues like that. I don’t care if you publish news in print or on-line, if you hold yourself out as a news organization, you should set an example and spell things properly. And use the right words. And use punctuation.
Now, having ranted about that, I will also say that I have learned to relax many of my spelling rules simply through exposure to other countries. Anyone reading this blog can probably guess that I’m American just from my spelling and word choice. And I know that many other English-speaking countries use different spelling conventions than we do in the U.S.: Program vs. programme, enroll vs. enrol (I thought that was a typo on a sign until I realized that that’s just how they spell it), definitely vs. definately (not sure it’s an official spelling, but very widespread in certain parts of the world, at least informally).* But usually there’s logic to spelling differences between countries, it’s not just the result of crappy education.
So, bringing this back to writing, I think it’ll be interesting to see how language evolves over my lifetime. As someone who wants to be a published author, will I find myself having to change the spelling in my novels to match the then current conventions or risk losing a younger audience who doesn’t know how to spell things “properly”? Or will published novels only become accessible to a small percentage of the population who can actually read them?
I don’t know. But whatever happens, I’m blaming it on the Internet.
*Interestingly, the only one of those spellings that WordPress’ spellcheck didn’t like was “definately.”
“But it’s awful for anyone who absorbs things subconsciously like I do.” gave me a chuckle. You mean every single person that ever existed?
I agree with your premise. Greater exposure to lower quality writing on average diminishes the average person’s ability. I say average, because each person applies themselves differently to the skill.
Language lives, changes, and grows. Unless the language in your story draws upon current popular culture than it only needs to follow the basic conventions to be readable. And reading itself will continue to be a popular past-time. It has, after all, remained popular since Socrates (with the little exception of the Dark Ages).
Now, if you intend to write literature then your market will always be small despite its merits.