Non-Standard Typography Use Over Time: Signs of a Lack of Literacy or Symbolic Capital?

Asta Zelenkauskaite, Amy L. Gonzales


New technologies have provoked a debate regarding the role of non-standard typography (e.g. !!!, :-*). Some contend that new technologies undermine literacy while others state that new technologies provide new spaces for expressive writing and signal a form of symbolic capital. While previous research has primarily focused on age and gender to account for non-standard typography, we analyze socio-economic variables – education and income level and the use of NST over time. This study entertains these two competing hypotheses by analyzing non-standard typography in text message exchanges over three and a half months in an underprivileged population: people living in an urban public housing. Data reveal that, within this sample, use of NST increased over time and participants with higher education levels were more likely to use non-standard typography than less educated counterparts. Experience with texting was found to mediate this effect. Findings support a symbolic capital hypothesis of non-standard typography use, suggesting NST is not associated with stigmatizing lack of knowledge or literacy, but rather may signal the knowledge of discourse norms ascribed to texting in a community.

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The Journal of Community Informatics. ISSN: 1712-4441