Social dysfunction

I’ve been following a Facebook page for a while – I’m not going to name it – and have been disappointed at the very poor standard of writing in some of the posts. Admittedly, it’s not alone in this and I’m not referring to the occasional typo, poor paragraphing, or misuse of the semi-colon: I’m talking about writing so flawed as to become incomprehensible. Writing all in capitals with no punctuation. Writing where so many words are just simply wrong that even a well-wisher can make neither head nor tail of the gist. Consistent confusion of “our”/”are”, “their”/”there”/”they’re” (of course), “of”/”off” and others, misspellings of the core words that appear time after time in these supposedly persuasive posts. A standard of literacy that works against the writers and their cause, helping opponents make fun of all involved and which produces the exponentially howling feedback of a vicious circle.

Eventually I carefully composed a post – using Word first to allow me to think, pause, edit and rephrase so as not to give offence or seem to be talking down to anyone  – pointing out the need for clarity and suggesting that writers who had any doubts about their standard of writing should try showing their work to a friend and also reading it out loud, the latter being something I nearly always do. I also suggested leaving a time gap between the original typing and the posting, just to let the dust settle and to give a chance for a re-reading – something I should do more myself! As a final thought I said that if anyone wanted to take advantage of my offer, I’d be glad to accept stuff for a quick once-over and return it to the writer for him or her to post.

One or two people have already accepted this offer and I’m glad to help them. A number of people “liked” my post and made supportive noises. But the number of nasty, vindictive comments – nearly 200  – astounded and upset me. I was accused of being a grammar-Nazi; I was called all the names under the sun and even labelled a Tory, which probably hurt the most! I was attacked for wanting to vet and censor what was written; I was told that education was rubbish and, by implication, so was I; one of the group’s moderators who seemed to have done a bit of research questioned my motives pointing out – inaccurately – that I’d only been a member for four weeks and suggesting I didn’t even live in Scotland. To be fair to her, she retracted the latter claim when I contacted her: I didn’t bother with the first one. I was lambasted for denigrating the Scots language and trying to force people to write in English: a complete misunderstanding of the situation. Truth to tell, I felt that some of the posts supposedly in “Scots” were just attempts to cover up illiteracy. Not that I said that of course: there is excellent writing in Scots – writing that is clear, clever, literate and persuasive / comedic / emotional etc. as the occasion demands. I felt many of the hostile posts were the result of wilful misunderstanding.

I made one attempt – probably misguided – to pour oil on the waters. I reminded folk that there were people who produced clever graphics, people who generated viral memes and so forth: I had none of these skills but was offering something I could do – no one had to take it up as it was just an open offer to be ignored or accepted as you saw fit. I got more abuse. Eventually I left the group and cancelled notifications so that my inbox no longer fills up with spleen.

The upside of this is that a few people did get in touch: some to show interest in my offer but several others to support my suggestion that presentation and clarity are important when trying to persuade others to change their attitudes. One or two asked me not to leave the group as they needed people like me: presumably because of my rather anal approach to writing, rather than my rugged good looks and vast fortune. I have a handful of new Facebook friends – apparently likeable folk whose posts on various topics – not all serious – I am enjoying.

To my mind the most disappointing aspect of all this is the sneering attitude to education, but it’s not new. Lewis Grassick Gibbon’s “Sunset Song” (there’s a good Scottish writer) gives the villagers of Kinraddie a similar attitude: “Most said it was a coarse thing, learning, just teaching your children a lot of damned nonsense…” and “education’s dirt”. What is new, though, is the impact this attitude seems to be having on the western world – and thus the whole globe – through the medium of the Internet. As I said in my “resignation letter”, it’s this attitude that’s made America “grate” again.

I’m glad to get that off my chest.

Despite the clouds over Facebook and the predictions of rain for Galle, yesterday was a lovely day: the sun shone from dawn to dusk and our dry run for the school’s Galle Fort Treasure Hunt went well. Rick, Kris and I started at four and walked the anti-clockwise route. Suggestions for improvements have been taken on board: mostly matters of presentation – larger font size to suit the younger kids now being involved and so forth. I was glad that I seemed to have got the level of vocabulary right for the kids: challenging at times, but not inaccessible. A couple of minor alterations were made to the questions, but basically it got the thumbs up. Halfway round, we stopped for a beer, on the basis the kids might have stopped for a break so we should too! We carefully paced our beer to match the time taken to eat an icecream.

After walking the course we went for a meal: the first place we tried serves healthy food and is part of a small SL-based chain called “Calorie Counter” and the offerings looked excellent. The downside is that it doesn’t serve beer, so we quickly rejected it and went to Fortaleza: this was Rick’s treat! Kris and I started with “tuna crudo” – slices of very rare tuna in a crust of black pepper. It was excellent. To follow, K&R opted for fajitas and I had my Fortaleza standard of mezze. You’ll see this place caters for a European clientele with no rice and curry – even a posh version – in sight! I have arranged to meet Angela, the IT teacher from last year, on Saturday for lunch and we’re going back to Fortaleza: I must try something other than mezze.

Untypically, I slept until 8am today. I had woken once or twice earlier but succeeded in getting back to sleep: even then I slobbed in bed for another hour so I’m feeling refreshed. I’ve updated the Treasure Hunt stuff and will wander over to the school soon to print out a copy for final approval, but it’s clearly going to be a very lazy day. Maybe I should reread “Sunset Song”: I’m still plugging away at “Crime and Punishment”, but it’s not grabbed me yet.


2 responses to “Social dysfunction

  1. Well, I believed your suggestion and offer to be kind and thoughtful. I can’t understand why people are happy to accept low quality when there is a chance of it being improved.
    I am not perfect, by any means, but the standard of some of the English I read from people on groups like that is deplorable. Some people on that thread blamed the education system. But their attitudes proved that it is not the fault of the educators. They used every stupid excuse in the book to make allowances for their bad writing/spelling, the main one being that they were writing in Scots. It wasn’t Scots….it was simply bad English.
    I’m sorry you were treated like that. I was pretty angry about it.

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