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Monday, October 17, 2011

The Craft of Writing in a Digital World

Writing is now less important and more important than it's ever been.

Words are cheap. Words can be pulled out of nothing and transmitted around the world in a matter of seconds. Some truly terrible sentences are propagated and even celebrated through media like Twitter. The ephemeral nature of online communication translates into a lack of care in crafting the words and a lack of interest in how they appear. A text message or a Facebook status is here for a moment, but soon eclipsed by the next one in an unending procession. Why take time to word-smith chaff?

Words are eternal. Even in the digital age, especially in the digital age, words don't go away. The blog post you wrote when you first learned about blogging is still archived online. Google has been scanning books in an attempt to leave no words behind in the digital revolution. I've been reading a scanned copy of Les Miserables that I was able to download for free. The greatest works of literature are available in an instant.

What this means for the craft of writing has yet to be determined, but one thing it does not mean is that writing is dead. Writing is still a necessary skill and those who can write well are still rare treasures for society. However there is a much larger signal-to-noise ratio that is in danger of drowning out the good writing.

Writing well in a digital world means learning to write in the Facebook voice or the Twitter voice. They aren't anathema to writers, but rather a different form to be mastered. They don't preclude other forms in the same way the magazines haven't replaced books. The internet hasn't destroyed libraries. Writing in a digital age is still a craft to be mastered by those who have the talent and the time to develop it.

Painting didn't die out when new paints were invented. It wasn't destroyed when photography was created. The art form evolved to meet the new realities of the technology. Writing is no different. We have different paints and brushes with which to craft words, but we are still artists and there is still a need for our art.


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