We Are Writing More Than Ever, Or Are We?

On the surface, I should be really excited about this ever-evolving global explosion with writing. In fact, the statistics are nothing short of staggering.

In February 2011, The Nielsen Company documented over 156 million public blogs in existence. In 2009, 1.5 trillion text messages were sent or were received (dhtech.com). According to Facebook’s statistics page (accessed at the time of this posting), there are more than 750 million active users, people spend over 700 billion minutes per month on Facebook, and they share more than 30 billion pieces of content (web links, news stories, blog posts, notes, photo albums, etc.) each month.Twitter, by its own claim, boasts that members are now posting in excess of 200 million tweets a month.

People are using writing and social networking to communicate more than ever before.

Consider the following passage from Jeremy Norman:

If we go back to the end of World War II in 1945, the year in which telegraphic use peaked in the United States, Americans sent 236 billion telegraph messages that year, seeming a huge number relative to U. S. population at the time. With respect to the amount of information transferred, numbers may be deceptive since telegraph messages were charged for by the word, and tended to be exceptionally brief, while the amount of text, audio and video information that can be transferred or exchanged in one minute on the Internet is incomparably greater than the amount of text that could be exchanged in the same time by telegraph. Because of the availability of increasingly rich and diverse information over wireless networks, the nature of telecommunication has changed. As of May 2010, cell phones, used by about 90% of American households, were used more for data, such as text messages, streaming video and music, than speech, and during 2008 to 2010 the average number of voice minutes per user in the United States fell. In his book, The Information. A Theory. A History. A Flood (2011, p. 395), James Gleick quotes Jaron Lanier dramatically describing the scale of the ever-accelerating flood of electronic information we are experiencing: “It’s as if you kneel to plant the seed of a tree and it grows so fast that it swallows your whole town before you can even rise to your feet.” (“From Cave Paintings to the Internet” http://www.historyofinformation.com/narrative/index.php)

Finally! People are writing more than they are speaking to communicate! After all these years, the written word has become king of the communication hill!

Or has it?

It seems to me that quantity has nothing to do with quality here, and in fact — all this “writing” is actually working against the production of any meaningful and significant written correspondence or communication that will survive a cache-clearing data dump of trivial information. We’re so caught up in instant communication in under 160 characters that we’re skimming the waves of our life experience. We are losing our ability to kill the motor, sink in the waters of who we are and what we feel, and share that with others in a meaningful way.

One staff writer for the Independent , who wrote an article on the state of love letters in the 21st century, posted this question last February:

Do people send each other love letters any more? Or is the exchange of amorous declarations between partners now forever delegated to the insulting greetings card, the fluffy-bunny message in newspaper classifieds, the wholly unpassionate email, the economical salutation of the text message?

The documentation of our lives, as only we can accurately record it through our own experiences, is becoming nothing more than an eWhisper, a vanishing trademark of communication that leaves us with nothing but the news, so immediately reported that we have little time to think or react to an event before the next breaking story pushes the previous one from our memories.

I am not totally discouraged. I was reduced to tears this summer when a fellow writer/teacher taught us all the art of digital storytelling, and how we can empower our students to do the same in the classroom. The integration of writing and images can be a powerful thing, and such historical documentation in a simple, digital format was not possible just a few years ago.

But I think this is the exception and not the rule. Even before programs like iMovie came along, there wasn’t a whole lot of non-digital storytelling going on either, which leads me to believe that the technology explosion is not necessarily killing all aspects of writing; it is simply revealing the ugliness of our society’s negligence in writing authentically.

We can change that. We can help each other turn off our motors and sink into the genuineness of our being.

The first step is to recognize the absolute importance of our existence, as well as the documentation of our understanding of the world around us.

Hard? I guess so. As Tom Hanks says in A League of Their Own, “It’s supposed to be hard; the hard is what makes it great.”

So who’s with me? Let’s accept that challenge, turn off the tweets and the updates, and sink a little. Then write.

I wonder what we’ll begin to discover . . . .



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