At school, aside from all the usual tribes and factions and ‘cool kids’, there were two distinct groups you had to belong to, and you didn’t get to pick which. You were either “thick” or “brainy” and there wasn’t really much in between.
Be declared a thicko, and over a decade of jeering, patronising and belming awaited you. Usually, once you left school to go and do whatever your intellect had allowed – be it university or a job or unemployment or, in the case of many thickos from my school, parenthood – this would fall away and you could be left in your own little world. Your perceived lack of intelligence could, unless you were particularly unlucky or had the kind of drunk, hectoring relatives who ruin Christmas, remain hidden.
Until social media.
Oh, God, we blame social media for everything now, don’t we? From our children not talking to us, to people being murdered, via clumsy, dimwitted racism and sexism. We have never been more aware of the idiocy that surrounds us – apart from our own.
People we would never associate with in real life are suddenly front-and-centre and all up in our grills with their lame anecdotes, ancient memes and dreary inspirational psycho-babble. And, of course, flaunting their literacy, or lack thereof, all over our timelines.
Thankfully, for those of us who never got the chance to sit at the back of the school bus, screenshotting has allowed us all to taste that superiority. Screen-grabbing does have its uses when it comes to highlighting sexism or racism or other deplorable antisocial behaviours – and when these happen to you, these are your stories to tell and you have a right to share them. Nobody gets to write your autobiography but you.
When we’re taking screen grabs and calling out people’s bad grammar or spelling in their status updates and having a good old chuckle, however, we’re regressing to the playground.
I was really disappointed, then, that BuzzFeed joined the jeering throngs with this piece entitled 28 Pictures That Will Destroy Your Faith in Education, which showed screengrabs of Facebook status updates and tweets from people whose grasp of grammar and spelling was certainly less than stellar.
I get that the piece was merely aggregating content freely available elsewhere, but it felt like a misfire from one of the fastest growing, and most influential, content organisations in the digital arena, making some big-name hires from some of the most respected newspaper and media outlets in the world. A step backwards into the “old” internet.
The headings are pretty grim. “This genius.” “This intellectual.” And if you break the oldest rule of the web and actually read the comments beneath it, you will see a massive pile-on, hordes of brainiacs eager to laugh at the dummies. Ironically, there are plenty of spelling mistakes strewn across them.
We’re tackling sexism and racism and fat-shaming and camp-shaming and calling out perpetrators in tweets and a gazillion think-pieces, but making fun of those with a lower level of literacy is, it would seem, still OK.
I don’t agree. There are lots of different reasons why someone may not have the same spelling smarts as you – lack of opportunity, dyslexia, difficult upbringing, or maybe just a general lack of brightness. Not being clever is something few people can actually change, and the education system can fail even the sharpest knives in the drawer.
Plus, is there anyone more boring and depressing than a self-appointed ‘grammar Nazi’? Wielding the red pen of justice and joylessness, their motto “I think you’ll find…” and a fuck-tonne of wearisome old “you’re/your” pedantry etched on their ice-cold heart?
Congratulations! You can spell! You can string a sentence together! How about you use this intellect for something helpful and interesting rather than kicking a dog that is certainly already down?
Have I done this myself? Have I judged people on their ability to rack out the ABCs rather than what they’re like as a person? Definitely. And I am ashamed. Mortified.
It reminds me of years ago, when I was a haughty, self-important 21-year-old, I proclaimed I didn’t “suffer fools gladly”. My dad, who was with me at the time, looked at me, disappointed, and reminded me gently: “Have you never been a fool? Can you honestly say you haven’t done anything foolish?”
I felt chastened, rightly.
Ripping a person to shreds because their IQ isn’t as stratospheric as yours? That truly is the dumbest of the dumb – and that’s what “destroys my faith in education”, not a misspelled status update.