What is the outlook for writing? Is there a future … or will we soon be reflecting on an imperfect past?
My question is actually in three parts, because ‘writing’ has a trio of key meanings that are particularly relevant: First, the art of putting pen to paper; second, the act of composing text; and third, the ability to make a living out of the other two.
I have been writing in various ways for a long time and have seen many changes in practice, style and opportunity. Overall, I think developments during my career have been positive – enabling me to derive greater pleasure and profit from my work and allowing me to deliver more quality and quantity for my clients.
Computers and the internet, for example, have made it easier to research, compose, edit and publish instantly to a potentially global audience. Grafted on to the foundation of an education that embraced the disciplines of grammar, spelling and a reasonably legible handwriting, the digital era has certainly expanded my horizons: but it has also made me aware of the need for quality in communication.
While welcoming the opportunities of this new age, I worry that the science is overshadowing the art. At the same time, the focus is shifting away from the basics of writing, raising the possibility that future generations could be much poorer in communication terms.
This comment has been written on a computer – as has most of my professional output over the past 30-odd years. I’d probably struggle to compose by hand, and my handwriting has degenerated to a scrawl. But at least I still hold a pen properly when I need to.
I have it on good authority that many children now in school have never been taught to hold a pencil or pen correctly – with the result that they may have difficulty in writing legibly. Coupled with an underemphasis on spelling and grammar, this does not bode well for communication in the future.
I suspect we are now seeing a compounding effect as many of today’s younger teachers are themselves the product of a learning-by-discovery education that dispensed with rote-learning for the basics. The impact of this is also apparent in the media – typically with the all-too-frequent misuse of words such as ‘less/fewer’ and ‘decimate’.
Mobile telephony has brought the ability to communicate virtually anywhere, at any time. But is has also spawned the phenomenon of ‘text speak’ and the powerful (but sometimes dangerous) social media. Why use a pen when you have a phone, why worry about spelling when you have predictive text and why worry about grammar when you have only 140 characters?
We could be heading for a crisis of literary skills.
While I may be sounding gloomy with regard to the first two parts of my question, I am much more optimistic about the third.
I believe that people who endure the process of learning to write – in both senses – will be in great demand as communicators and custodians of knowledge. They will:
We will still need good writers. We will need them to shape our messages. And we will need them to uphold the literary traditions that – fortunately – still underpin today’s world.
If you have read this far, why not give some thought to the points raised above and join the debate by way of the comment facility?
David Goddin was born in the UK and educated in South Africa. He began his career on daily newspapers and trade journals, before moving into public relations consulting. He produced award-winning writing and became an Accredited PR Practitioner, the highest qualification of the Public Relations Institute of South Africa. Since his return to the UK 17 years ago he has also contributed to a number of highly successful PR and marketing communications campaigns for major national and multinational clients. He is currently also President of the Haslemere & District Chamber of Trade & Commerce.