The Impact of Popular Culture on Communication Skills: A Commentary with Insights for Writing Instruction

Article excerpt

Today's undergraduate students are part of the millennial generation. (Coomes & Debard, 2004) Comfortable with technology and accustomed to a 24/7 world, they are capable of multi-tasking, and they manifest diverse learning styles. The generation has been raised in a polarized political environment and influenced by numerous cultural icons. Certain data depict millennial students as a generation that is bored, unable to focus academically, and not engaged in their studies. This column examines one element in the lives of millennial students-popular culture-and explores its impact on their communication skills, specifically their ability to envision, organize, develop, and deliver academic text.

Popular Culture and Communication

Dr. Christopher Lynch, a Professor of Communication, presents theoretical and practical insights on how popular culture impacts communication.

Popular Culture is ever-present and all pervasive. Its icons have been the gods of our times and its rhetoric our prayers. This is no new phenomenon, but in recent decades the influence of popular culture has been magnified due to the intense impact of visual modes of communication. However, the impact of popular culture goes deeper-to our everyday patterns of conversation and writing. Popular culture influences the attitudes and values that students bring to higher education. College recruiters have become aware that popular values have shaped students into "consumers" of education in recent years. College orientation programs have embraced the latest fashion in t-shirts with the university logo rather than giving a gift of a book to entering students. Popular culture has impacted on the places we value as sources of our information. Movie versions become more real to students than historical contexts of events. Since the release of the movie, The Santa Clause, I find that students, when writing about the character of a similar name, prefer the movie spelling rather than the traditional spelling of Mr. Claus' name. The Internet has become the valued research site for students of our contemporary culture. The Internet has created its own rules of spelling and grammar. Each time I see the misspelling, it highlights the impact our wider culture has on writing, communicating and thinking patterns within our society. The fact that we have a film star as governor of California and a celebrity prize-fighter as former governor of Minnesota helps to illustrate this point.

Popular culture impacts on teaching styles. Professors compete with the latest video games or DVDs struggling to become teacher-entertainers always in dread of being shunned by the student comment that "Class is boring." Professors have had to construct learning games to keep students engaged. Professors who deliver a lecture are less favored than professors who engage students in open discussion. The discussion must relate to contemporary issues because the past is out-of-date. This presents a challenge to the instructor who is assigned to teach the rubrics that shape the organization of an essay or a speech.

Popular conceptions of time shape attitudes toward the classroom experience. The Internet has added to the myriad of choices that enhance communication but at the same time have enabled anyone to publish at anytime about anything. The talk show phenomenon and the rise of a McDonalidized society have emphasized that any idea can be expressed and we need to do it instantly. Students have come to expect that they have a right to be heard and speak out whenever they feel the urge. The danger of this tendency is that we stop listening to each other and critical thought becomes diminished. Another consequence of time is that students are impatient to take time to practice a speech or rewrite a draft of an essay. They become disheartened when their communications don't achieve eloquence on the first try. Students don't want to brainstorm ideas because the process takes time. …

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