Online illiteracy is rife

c: | f: /

I thought it was a simple question: “Why do you never forget how to ride a bike?” Yahoo Answers cropped up as the top result. I should have known better, but I clicked it.

Climbing onto a bike for the first time in just over twenty years, I zoomed off down the road within seconds. No practice; no wobbling; just did it.

Pretty much everyone’s heard the adage that once you learn how to ride a bike you never forget, and being an inquisitive sort of fellow I looked up the reason on the Internet. Turns out it’s something to do with the fact the process is stored in procedural memory which is the same part of your brain where motor skills (like breathing) reside. Most other, learned information goes in declarative memory which can be forgotten if not regularly topped up by accessing it.

But this post isn’t about the mechanism of your brain remembering how to ride. It’s about the morons that inhabit Yahoo Answers, divulging facts that are, in no uncertain terms, utter bollocks or incomprehensible, often both. [EDIT: link gone since Yahoo Answers wisely shut down their service, so the Internet Archive houses the one and only remaining copy].

I shall let this guy kick off proceedings with his official answer on why you never forget how to ride a two-wheeled, self-powered machine:

And we humans weren’t always on the top of the food chain. Since we used to be frequently chased around by the dinos that inhabited the earth we have deeply ingrained in our minds the ability to run. And luckily for us running is almost identical to peddling.

Had I been drinking milk when I read that, I think it would have come out of my nose. I’ll maybe let him get away with the whole dinosaurs and humans co-existing argument. Even though there’s no direct proof and our best guess is that the two species were separated by several million years, nobody really knows, and for all I knew at that point, he might have been a scientist.

But then he destroyed that notion with the final sentence where he clearly demonstrated the inability to differentiate between peddling (goods) and pedalling (a bicycle). Indeed it is very lucky for us as a species that running is an almost identical motor function to selling drugs. That probably explains why everyone is doing it.

Next, we turn our attention to the following young tool. Clearly the education system is irrevocably broken if this is the best sentence today’s twelve year olds can construct:

I didnt learn til i was like 9 and was better til i was 10 cuz we moved around alot i didnt forget cuz i practiced everyday im 12 now

What just happened? Did I enter some chamber that swallowed apostrophes, full stops and capital letters? I had to slow my brain down to even get the basic gist of what I think was the point, but I’m unsure if I’ve interpreted the curious mix of text speak and badly spelled drivel correctly.

If I’ve read it right, it appears that the reason I didn’t fall off my bike the other day was because this person learnt when they were nine, yet it took a year to get it sussed despite practicing [sic] every day until age twelve. Glad that clears up my query. Though I do have three words for you, kid: Spelling. Punctuation. Structure.

Our third contender for village idiot is this fellow:

its not about fogetting…its learning…that if u ride fast enough u can easily balance urself….as long as u keep pedaling or have enough speed…

For the love of carrot cake, perhaps this guy got drugs off dino dude and was taught how to use apostrophes and capital letters from the twelve-year-old. He seems to foget the fact that learning how to ride a bike is fiendishly difficult to co-ordinate all your limbs, perform an alien movement with your legs, balance, steer, brake, process a zillion signals about avoiding obstacles, and not fall off. Soooo simple.

Moron numero four seems to favour text speak too, even using it to add letters when a single letter would be slightly clearer:

cause it burnes into ur memory…….like wen ur were cared shitless to fall of it wen they took ur training wheels off…..that emotion helped u learn permanently.

Oh gimme a break. It’s burned into my memory because I was (s)cared of losing the stabilisers? Seriously? Oh, and for future reference, of is not the same as off. And you (u) and your (ur) are different constructs.

Finally, perhaps my favourite reason for why I didn’t fall off the bike is proffered by this person:

I forgot how to ride a bike, im that stupid. lmao jk i dunno cuz your brain…idk sorry =P

Granted, there’s a solitary full stop in there, which is a step up from most of the other answers. But is the rest even English? Expanding the last portion (I hesitate to call it a sentence) into something resembling a rational statement reveals the following equation:

Laugh my arse off joke I don’t know because your brain I don’t know sorry equals P.

Is there a mathematician in the house? Anyone who can decode this tripe?

If there’s anything I learned from Yahoo Answers and its inhabitants — some might say mutants — it’s that grammar, punctuation, spelling, research, and a coherent argument are unfashionable qualities in writing. But as outmoded as it may be, people who cannot grasp the basics of communication on the Internet should probably abide by what Abraham Lincoln said: “Better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to speak out and remove all doubt.”

Word, brother.

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