Maybe Writing Isn’t So Obsolete After All

Just a few years ago I was mourning the loss of the printed word in our media-hungry and web-hungry society. Even people I really respect, although most of them much younger than I, were starting to show cavalier disregard for the English language. I’d grimace while reading something that mistook then for than, or they’re for their, or misspelled lots of simple words. The response would be rolled eyes, like…

Maria Skaldina/Shutterstock


why do you care? You can read it. You can see what it says.

It makes me feel like the archetypical grumpy old man.

Meanwhile, television news has taken over from print news. Newspapers are dying. And books?  Doomed. I picked this up in a 2007 New Yorker piece called Twilight of Books:

In 1982, 56.9 per cent of Americans had read a work of creative literature in the previous twelve months. The proportion fell to fifty-four per cent in 1992, and to 46.7 per cent in 2002. Last month, the N.E.A. released a follow-up report, “To Read or Not to Read,” which showed correlations between the decline of reading and social phenomena as diverse as income disparity, exercise, and voting. In his introduction, the N.E.A. chairman, Dana Gioia, wrote, “Poor reading skills correlate heavily with lack of employment, lower wages, and fewer opportunities for advancement.”

But then — about 2007 for me, late, I know, compared to the web literate elites — I caught on to blogs. And discovered where writing had gone to; and where people cared about writing. Writing and reading are alive and well, it turns out, but they’ve migrated to some extent. The Huffington Post, the world’s leading blog, gets something upwards of 20 million unique visitors per month.  Blog after blog is about writing: writing well, writing better. I just looked: more than 10,000 hits on Google for the search term “writing blog headlines.” And I keep stumbling on blogs that are exhilaratingly well written. Look at Ann Handley’s Annarchy, for example (for a good sample, read Refugee at Home). Or Penelope Trunk’s Brazen Careerist (sample this post for good writing, but you should know first that, like a lot of good writing, it’s dark.). And I read business and entrepreneurship blogs that are not just good content, but extremely well written. Seth Godin delivers a short beautifully written post almost every day.

Lately there’s twitter, limiting the writing to 140 characters, putting a whole new twist on writing. There’s so many examples of good writing in 140 characters that it’s like searching for needles in a pile of needles. Do this twitter search for haiku to see what I mean. And then I just browsed the tweets of the people above, and came up with this one, by Penelope Trunk. I didn’t have to search for a good one, this was simply her latest as I wrote this post:

I forget to tell the waiter to hold the bacon bits. Then I go wild: I decide a Jewish woman who dates a pig farmer can take a taste of pork.

That’s good writing. And there’s so much of it out there. I’m feeling way better about the future or writing after all.

(Photo credit: Maria Skaldina/Shutterstock)


  • Vitezslav Valka says:

    I feel the same changes around me. The quality and form of text part is becoming more and more crucial. Nicely done Tim!

  • Maybe Writing Isn’t So Obsolete After All says:

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  • Strategic Growth Advisors says:

    Among the plethora of digital advancements — as well as social media developments — springing up each day like woodland mushrooms in springtime, I have observed a common theme: all-out, no holds barred urgency.

    The movers of prominent social media sites like Twitter undoubtedly achieved this, but while I don’t have any qualms about not spelling words entirely just to convey a message, I would prefer a good old pen and paper (what I call the original computer) when I plan to do some serious writing.

  • David Calabrese says:

    I think it is interesting that very short format communications are widely being referred to as writing. Text messaging, wall updates on Facebook and Tweeting are now the preferred form of communication with friends, family and colleagues.

    Where was this when I was in college? I wish I could’ve tweeted my senior research paper.

    The challenge that I have found with the RSS feed for life is that we always feel rushed. Rushed to send more messages, respond to more emails and get more done in a day. But are we more productive? With so much fun that can be had online why spend 8 hours working.

    I was talking with a colleague last night and they said “I don’t get twitter”. Why do people use it and what’s the big deal?” My response, “it’s a way of sending text messages to your friends at work without picking up your mobile phone”. Whether or not Twitter gets the spam under control is an entirely different topic…

    As someone who grew up in the technology age witnessing the introduction of laptops, mobile phones and the power of the internet I have learned to accept that things will change and I can resist or adapt, although I’d be lying if I didn’t say I’d like to adapt at a more reasonable pace.

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