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Sunday, March 02, 2014

The Demise of Writing as We Know it (!)(?)

In a textbook called The New Literacies, I read the following sentence:
“It is even possible to conceive of a future in which all paper-and-pencil literacies are replaced by digital literacies.”
We have seen the advent of this already…How many of you have a Kindle? (My hand is raised. I, in fact, LOVE my Kindle. And not only do I have a Kindle Paperwhite, I have the Kindle app on my Android phone and Android tablet. But I digress.)

What this sentence is saying goes beyond the shift from paperbacks to e-book readers. These authors suggest that in the future, humans will no longer write long-form essays and stories. They will create content digitally through photos, other graphics, music, and sound…maybe with the assistance of some words, but not necessarily in sentences. And not necessarily lines of verse, either. Possibly just a word here or there to accentuate the other media being used.

This prompted me to look up the definition of “to write”:

“to form (as characters or symbols) on a surface with an instrument (as a pen).”

This could also be applied to typing letters on a computer, and I suppose it could also cover the process of putting other types of symbols together (other than letters) to communicate a message. In this case, using digital media to communicate a message or story could be like a form of writing.

Will digital media eventually replace writing as we know it?

"Borneo: Memory of the Caves"
My first reaction to this is "No! We cannot and we will not lose writing!" When I pause to reflect on it, this doesn't seem like an outrageous trajectory for the writing process. Human's written communication skills have evolved from cave drawings to what it is now because of new tools and technologies, so it makes sense that it will continue to evolve.

If that is the case, what do you suppose that means for the future of writers? Do you think in the future, instead of writing this blog post, I will communicate it to you in a series of photos and audio? Some blogs and websites already do this.

In the future, instead of writing a novel, will it be read aloud (like an audiobook) with a companion series of images or video (maybe like a really long movie)?

What might the future hold for writers given the changes in technology? I do not anticipate that in my lifetime I will see the demise of the novel as we currently know it…but what might it look like in a 100 years from now?

By Anne Greenawalt: writer, writing instructor, and Adult Education doctoral student


  1. Anne--You brought up some thought-provoking points. I love digital stories (stories where the written word and images and music and spoken word are combined) but I also love books where the words stand alone.

    But the reminder that writing has evolved over the years--and will continue to evolve--makes me wonder as well.

    Thanks for the post, Anne.

  2. Anne:
    This is almost a scary thought. At first, I was thinking--NO WAY, but then when you brought up the cave drawings--I'm sure they never imagined there would even be paper and pencil. (Get rid of our cave drawings? NO WAY--I'll never change, Caveman A said. :) I actually hope I don't live to see this (although I would like to live another 60 or 70 years at least). But I love the written word.

  3. Here's a glimmer of hope. My daughter, who is 18, is reluctant to use her Kindle. She PREFERS the book format for reading. I've never, once known her to use the audio alternative. The future still likes to read. I think instead of seeing this as a scary trend, we can see it as new ways to express creativity. I won't panic until I have to. ;)

  4. The following comment is posted on behalf of Elizabeth McBride:
    Many questions are raised by these assertions, so I raise another. Is it a cultural logic we are using that assumes new forms of literacy will replace, rather than join others? Yes, the cave paintings are not the medium of this present day, but painting survives. What we use, and how we employ those tools of writing may become more like the artist's choice of brushes, palette knives, canvas or board, piano or digital keyboard. If we are willing to concede that there are legitimate choices in the writing process for the writer, then we must also allow for readers to make their choices for the most comfortable fit of format to their reading styles and preferences.

    There have also been predictions of a rise in the hunger for the tangible in the increasingly split existences we have created for ourselves. I am not in any position to judge the evidence presented here, but I think we all need to question the logic we use when we hasten to accept the 'therefore....' that follows assertions about the future. The core of our humanity remains the central issue, not the peripheral.

    Connection and meaning (significance/purpose) are key components for human mental health. As our existence threatens to become more and more of an exercise in virtual experiences, we may find that readers and writers have an increasing desire to touch what touches them.


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