Are Digital Tools Making Younger Workers Less Literate?

Brenda Berg

The millennial generation is unique. Often described as the “hyper-connected generation,” millennials display an apparent addiction to technology, especially the Internet.

One aspect of the digital age is cyber slang—terms such as LOL, WTF, and WUU2—which many online users of all ages use while texting and in other digital conversations. This online lexicon has existed for nearly a decade, and some observers are questioning whether these everyday interactions are actually driving down literacy skills, especially in millennials and younger people.

In the survey, 68% of teachers agreed that digital tools are causing students to take shortcuts with their writing, resulting in lack of effort. Another 46% agreed that digital tools result in students writing too quickly and ultimately becoming careless with their work.

College lecturer and UK dissertation writer Loretta Rios notes, “Texting (SMS), including online communication tools such Facebook Messenger and Twitter, are heavily influencing the way the younger, millennial generations are communicating with one another. It’s hard for a young mind to separate the difference of why one form of communication is acceptable online but may not be in written work or even in face-to-face conversations. Sites like Twitter, with limited characters per post, are assisting in the spread of abbreviated language, which is becoming more and more common in their day-to-day lives.”

Online language may work perfectly well for younger students in contexts where those around them understand and accept it. However, it could pose bigger problems when these individuals entering the world of work, especially in corporate environments where formal language and traditional methods of communication are standard.

Charlie Floyd, a human resources manager at Australian Help, explains, “Every single day we receive resumes and CVs from students at the older end of the millennial generation for us to edit or asking for jobs. The quality of these documents, in particular, the language used is different to anything we’ve ever seen. It seems like students are rapidly beginning to lose the ability to determine what is formal and what is informal and what language to use. This will pose huge issues in the future, especially to young employees trying to obtain jobs in corporate businesses and firms.”

A recent survey of nearly 2,500 teachers indicated that “online-speak” was routinely showing up in assignments, especially essays, email, and other forms of traditional or formal written communication. With the increase in use of online writing tools, teachers expressed concern that even simple technologies such as automatic spell-checkers are contributing to students becoming overly reliant on software.

English professor and writer Bryan Holland remarks, “Many of the documents I receive at work are increasingly being completed to an extremely poor standard of English. Even basic spelling and grammar techniques are being forgotten about, and in some cases I’ve even seen abbreviations such as ‘LOL’ and ‘to’ which has been replaced by ‘2’.”

Gary Monk, creator of citation tool Cite It In, adds, “Our analytics show that Cite It In is being used more and more by individuals of the millennial generation. With a lack of proper formal language education and constant access to abbreviated language used online, students are finding it really difficult to break their habits and learn the difference between formal and informal language.”

Some scientific data suggests that excessive use of technology can cause the outlying layers of the brain to shrink, making it more difficult for individuals to process information (although it’s worth noting that different people will be affected in different ways).

In addition to the question of literacy decline, some studies also suggest that excessive technology use can affect parts of the brain that control and regulate emotions, attention span, and even memory functions. Internet addiction is also becoming more prevalent, especially in millennials—some doctors even report that they have treated patients for blood clots resulting from having sat in front of a computer for too long.

Of course, it’s not all bad news. Clearly, there are plenty of benefits to millennials’ technology use. The global population is always connected and have their fingers on the pulse of the world. They’re able to stay constantly up to date, and are more willing to drive change.

Accordingly, modern workplaces must keep up with the new workforce. Here are a few ways your organization can embrace millennials without alienating other workers:

  • Enable remote working: Thanks to the Internet, workers are more capable than ever of working from anywhere. The option to work remotely is a great way to get younger workers on board.
  • Offer more online interaction: Millennials are very comfortable using online methods of communication. They feel that they can manage issues more quickly online, and this makes them more efficient. Be sure your office offers multiple online communication options.
  • Help them move up the ladder: Millennials can be impatient, wanting to get where they’re going as quickly as possible. Keep an eye on their progress, and let them know what they need to do to get that next promotion.
  • Keep the work/life balance: Despite their love of technology, many young people complain that it hinders their ability to maintain a work/life balance. Encourage your employees to switch off after a certain time to avoid burnout.

Only time will tell the long-term implications of technology dependency on the younger generations. As millennials and younger generations join and slowly dominate the workforce, older workers can educate—while also keeping an open mind.

For more on millennials in today’s changing workforce, see How To Succeed As A Millennial In The Gig Economy.

About Brenda Berg

Brenda Berg is a professional with over 15 years of experience in business management, marketing and entrepreneurship. Consultant and tutor for college students and entrepreneurs. She believes that constant learning is the only way to success.