From writing to texting

The Britannica Blog is running, in conjunction with The Futurist magazine, a forum on Learning & Literacy in the Digital Age, which includes a piece by me on the resilience of the written word. (The brief piece actually originally appeared in a recent issue of The Futurist).

First paragraph:

The written word seems so horribly low tech. It hasn’t changed much for a few millennia, at least since the ancient Greeks invented symbols for vowels. In our twitterific age of hyperspeed progress, there’s something almost offensive in such durability, such pigheaded resilience. You want to grab the alphabet by the neck, give it a shake, and say, Get off the stage, dammit. Your time is up.

Read the rest of it.

4 thoughts on “From writing to texting

  1. Barry Kelly

    I found this article odd; it seems written to an audience that I don’t know exists, one that is fearful, reactionary, lost in a sea of technology, with Luddite tendencies? People who are seriously afraid that the “written word” is under attack, and need reassuring?

    People today read more than they ever did before. That much is clear with even a casual glance.

    Oh but sorry, there is reason for the fear and Luddism: language will be “debased”, it will “lose its richness”. Humans will merely “process” words.

    What incredible garbage. I do hope this is the last line of its ilk I read from your hand; certainly, I’ll be unsubscribing from your feed. You need worry about my debased and bland comment-writing no more…


    You write, “Writing will survive, but it will survive in a debased form. It will lose its richness. We will no longer read and write words. We will merely process them, the way our computers do.”

    While I agree there are less rich things happening in writing now, I don’t believe that’s the end of the story. We process writing in a book every bit as much as writing on Twitter, just in a different way. It’s entirely possible that a rich reading experience equivalent to sitting down with Donne or Fowles will occur, leveraging cues not yet developed online. An interactive reading experience could similarly enrich the processing of written data. Long before Twitter, there were infobytes in magazines, personal ads, quick notes left to ourselves and one another. These did not stop good books from appearing.

    Or, perhaps I just can’t bear the idea that we’ll lose this experience.

    P.S. Have you read Dan Simmon’s Ilium? He posits a future in which reading is lost for the most part, replaced by a reading function (a “palm function” similar to GPS or phones), which is lost in turn. In the land of the illiterate, a self-taught reader is unusually empowered.

  3. Luciano Fuentes

    I found the comment by Barry amusing.

    A friend of mine has established quite a following on Twitter (he’s a web developer of course). He told me he’s noticed an increase in people threatening to “unfollow” (or unfriend/un-subscribe etc.) from his feed. These strange threats usually come after tweeting about some arcane topic that only web-devs could care about.

    It seems the presumption the follower bestows some value on the “followee” is quite common.

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