Wired youth forget how to write in China and Japan

Like every Chinese child, Li Hanwei spent her school days memorizing thousands of the intricate characters that make up the Chinese writing system. Yet, at 21 and now a university student in Hong Kong, Li already finds that when she picks up a pen to write, the characters for words as simple as “embarrassed” have slipped from her mind—and surveys indicate the phenomenon, dubbed “character amnesia,” is widespread across China, causing young Chinese to fear for the future of their ancient writing system, AFP reports. Young Japanese people also report the problem, which is caused by the constant use of computers and mobile phones with alphabet-based input systems. There is even a Chinese word for the phenomenon: “tibiwangzi,” or “take pen, forget character.” A poll commissioned by the China Youth Daily in April found that 83 percent of the 2,072 respondents admitted having problems writing characters. As a result, Li says that she has become almost dependent on her phone. Character amnesia happens because most Chinese people use electronic input systems based on pinyin, which translates Chinese characters into the Roman alphabet. The user enters each word using pinyin, and the device offers a menu of characters that match. So users must recognize the character, but they don’t need to be able to write it. In Japan, where three writing systems are combined into one, mobiles and computers use the simpler hiragana and katakana scripts for inputting—meaning users may forget the kanji, a third strand of Japanese writing similar to Chinese characters…

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