The Death of the Written Word

I have spent the last 15 years teaching children how to master and ultimately cherish reading and writing. I am also an author, so my life is the written word.

But even I can see the writing on the wall.

I came across two interesting posts yesterday that illustrate the coming tide. The first post was an article about how entire communities are going “dark” with the closures of post offices.  Consider this from the article: “The internet, officials said, was killing the U.S. Postal Service. ‘Well, I have no internet,’ said resident Judy Akenbauer.”

Step 1: The Great Divide

Yes, we are witnessing the beginning of the Great Divide: those who have electronic devices to use this incredible technology (internet, Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, etc.) and those who do not. Hmmm… perhaps we could call those of us fortunate to have access the “Tech Dwellers” and those who face a silent future the “Faceless.”

There has always been a gap, but once we cut off the Faceless from any access at all to information, we are truly sealing their doom. Two-thirds of the communities who have their post offices closing have no real access to Broadband internet access. Ouch!

Step 2: The Loss of the Written Word

The second post I came across was about Pinterest, and how the use of photo apps allows users to communicate volumes simply using images, no writing involved.  This got me thinking about how our culture really is changing the way we consume information:

  • Over 3 billion videos are viewed each day on YouTube.
  • Apple is marketing interactive textbooks, packed with embedded “how to” movies and interactive graphics.
  • Even traditional textbooks have an online component packed with videos reteaching the material.
  • E-books are outselling tree-books, and those E-books are quickly transforming from just words to interactive experiences packed with graphics and movie clips.
  • Kahn Academy (a video site) would like to replace traditional book-and-teacher learning entirely with videos.
  • iPad apps are replacing traditional reading and note-taking in the classroom.
  • Video and photo blog templates are increasingly in-demand for blogger sites (unheard of two years ago)
  • Pinterest is the fastest-growing social site ever

Okay, so following this trend, we “Tech Dwellers” –those of us who utilize all these things on our Smart Phones, Kindles, iPads, laptops, and computers–seem to be facing a very real possibility: The loss of the written word.

Technology may eventually lull us into the easier-to-digest and not-nearly-as-difficult-to-comprehend state of learning from videos, photos, and interactive graphics. A picture says a thousand words, right?  That saying is absolutely true, thus we won’t need to read those one thousand words when we can simply look at that picture, right?

Thus, logic says we may indeed lose the ability to read those words at all.

Step 3: The Great Silence

Those of us who study linguistic history know that a “Great Silence” of sorts happened in England during the Norman occupation. The ruling class spoke French and Latin while the poor populace spoke English. During this brutal time period, no books were written or printed in English, so a “great silence” happened as nobody had access to books to learn how to read. The populace was illiterate with no way out, for almost 300 hundred years. What a loss!  And it looks like it may happen again.

Once technology solidifies its position, no more books will be written. Instead we will have an even greater amassing of videos, photos, interactive apps, etc. We will once again become an illiterate population.

Step 4: Destruction of Books

After all this, what happens to the books nobody reads anymore? They take up a lot of space!  What do we do with the huge buildings we call libraries? Nobody will be using those books, so let’s utilize that space for something more effective!

Just to be safe, we’ll probably create electronic copies of the important books, like the Google Book Project… but who will decide which books we save? Which knowledge will be selected to be preserved for humanity? What gems of poetry, secret treasures of the written word, will forever be lost?

The Final Question

So, once we Tech Dwellers have our shiny devices and are watching movies and seeing photos and interacting with holographic images, I have a final question for us to consider: What happens when the giant meteor hits?

What happens when we no longer have electricity to power those devices and we are ALL an illiterate population? No books. No reading. What will we do for knowledge then?

Curious? Me, too… and so what do I do? What any author would: I write about it!

This is the topic of my current manuscript tentatively called “The Secret Society of Words.” I am nearing the end of my first draft now, but I’d love to hear your thoughts. Are we doomed as a society? Will technology be our end? Let me know in the comments.

7 Comments The Death of the Written Word

  1. fadderly

    wow!!!! i’m on the fence about this. on the fence about our future. i really hope it isn’t as bleak as it appears. but, i have noticed the trends. not just noticed, but use them as well.

    i use pinterest to promote my blog. which, is mostly writing. but, it seems i get more hits when i not only include pictures, but just use pictures as the post.

    i don’t know. i don’t have the answers. but, it doesn’t give me happy feelings…

    Reply
  2. Thomas Ho

    Cave paintings tell us we’ve been down this road before, don’t they? Of course, that’s because writing had NOT been invented YET!

    You’ve certainly made us think of the implications. Writing was ALREADY losing ground before so its erosion is actually accelerating if we buy your arguments. That makes me wonder how much ‘blame’ can be attributed to the Internet as you imply!

    Just more to think about…I have more questions than answers..at least I CAN write them! :-)

    Reply
    1. Bess

      Not really trying to blame the internet but just technology in general. The telephone and TV had already started to put a decline in writing, but I agree it does seem to be accelerating as more people begin to use the technologies listed.

      Reply
  3. Thomas Ho

    By the way, it’s STILL easiest to respond by WRITING on our devices rather than drawing or recording. When that situation changes, we will have hit an inflection point, don’t you agree?

    Reply
    1. Bess

      Totally! I am waiting for the next “Gates” or “Jobs” to create a software similar to Dragon Dictation that takes our spoken word and creates a hologram out of it… I figure it is only time!

      Reply

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