…A little while ago I was running a TooManyCooks camp (it would be a whitewaterwriters camp these days) for year 9 students in a school in South London.
On the Tuesday evening I looked through the drafts (teachers generally do this too) to give some feedback in the morning.
So on the Wednesday morning I mention to the writers they have got a lot of lower-case ‘i’s when they should have capital ones. They vaguely nod and we move on.
That lunchtime, I look though again. Same problem, perhaps worse. We start proofreading the next day but it’s still odd for this age group.
When they came back from lunch I brought it up again….
(The following conversation is not verbatim – my memory of the event is fading and I’ve filtered out all but the salient points. ).
Me: Hey guys. I mentioned the capital I thing earlier, it’s still happening a lot – is there something I’m missing?
Girl: Yeah it’s not doing it.
Girl (possibly the same one) When you type ‘i’. It doesn’t make it a capital.
Me: Well yes… You have to use shift…
I’ll admit to a certain amount of confusion at this point. These writers had successfully ploted and (mostly) drafted a full novel and and demonstrated quite reasonable technical skills throughout. Two of them were actively circumventing the school’s web controls so they could listen to Spotify while working (I consider this reasonable technical skills although I suspect that working in Computer Science for the last decade has somewhat altered my evaluation criteria). I was not expecting us to need to give reminders on the finer points of the shift key.
Girl (probably one of the others): Noooooo. See… look!
She demonstrates on Microsoft Word. Indeed. In Word if you type ‘when i clean windows’ it indeed automatically makes this ‘When I clean windows’. Well done Word.
The thing is, we were using Google Docs, which leaves your text alone.
And when you look at this from the point of view of the student, this does seem like something not to worry about. The capitality (new word alert) of the I doesn’t help meaning at all – it’s never ambiguous. More to the point, having it lower case makes more sense if you are getting the hang of writing.
And indeed, for the students the only time their typing was assessed was when they had written the document in Word. Word takes care of it. So they don’t need to worry about it in exactly the same way I have no idea what a choke is for in my car but I understand there is an automatic one and it’s handling things nicely.
In this particular instance we carefully explained to the student that they were going to have to engage with the shift key, and from then on rattled on merrily producing a quite pleasant book.
The experience stayed with me because I take a quiet enjoyment in watching a language refine itself and I can only imagine that in another few years when this generation reach the workplace in large numbers, written English will change in a dozen sensible ways. And i for one welcome it.