Is Twitter Making Kids Smarter?

(Photo: Jemimus)

(Photo: Jemimus)

In the Globe and Mail, Clive Thomas argues that all the time kids spend on Facebook, Twitter, and blogs may be making them better writers and thinkers.  Thomas cites the work of Andrea Lunsford, an English professor at Stanford, who recently compared freshman composition papers from 1917, 1930, 1986, and 2006 and found that, while the average rate of errors hasn’t changed much since 1917, students today write longer, more intellectually complex papers:

In 1917, a freshman paper was on average only 162 words long and the majority were simple “personal narratives.” By 1986, the length of papers more than doubled, averaging 422 words. By 2006, they were more than six times longer, clocking in at 1,038 words – and they were substantially more complex, with the majority consisting of a “researched argument or report,” with the student taking a point of view and marshalling evidence to support it.

“Student writers today are tackling the kinds of issues that require inquiry and investigation as well as reflection,” Prof. Lunsford concluded.

Lunsford believes the shift is partially driven by all the “life writing” (long emails, posts on TV discussion boards, blog posts, etc.) students now do outside the classroom.  “They’re writing more than any generation before,” she says.

Of course it is also possible that there is no causal relationship whatsoever between all that “life writing” and those freshman comp essays, as approximately 1 billion other factors (including, as Thomas points out, higher educational standards and better information availability) may also have contributed …

(HT: The Daily Dish)


Why does longer papers indicate greater intelligence? Conveying an idea concisely can be quite the challenge.


I realize it's opening a whole new can of worms, but it would be interesting to see (as other users posted) quality VS quantity. A lot of people below have stated that student's writing hasn't actually been affected that much due to this only measuring how much they write, or that the access to information has changed.

Most younger people don't know the feeling of walking to a library and sorting through hundreds of books and papers. People (as it's been stated) have easier access to both research and to typing now. You don't have to bring out a typewriter anymore and seek publishing for ideas; you can pull out your phone and do a lot more with it.

So my question is not testable, but still curious... Were more quality ideas lost due to people forgetting/being too lazy to jot them down 30 years ago or are there the same amount of "quality" ideas now, just swimming under hundreds of other "life blogs"?



Modern technology is not making kids smarter - twitter, in our opinion, is making our kids lazy and less smart.

Dean Miller

The Gettysburg address would have been longer and better had Mr. Lincoln had twitter?


Social media exposes the average person to more dialogue. The quality of dialogue on the internet is better than the quality of dialogue most people encounter in everyday life. Not because people on the internet are smarter (god no), but because the wider variety of dialogues encountered. Discussion and debate form the foundation of the internet--years of intellectual products made accessible to Google (Courtesy of forums and list-servs). That sets a normative example, one reinforced by a Darwinian meritocracy (thanks Reddit).


I call BS on this article. It has more to do with higher standards and an increased availability of information. Facebook/Twitter just make you "#dumb"!