Wednesday, April 15, 2009

21st Century Writing

A post on the blog, "Weblogg-ed," authored by Will Richardson, got me thinking about the nature of writing; particularily, the role of writing in modern society.

Richardson writes:

. . . an important value of writing today is not simply to communicate but to get others engaged, to build a larger conversation around what we write. As she states in “Writing in the 21st Century” (a must read, btw) writing is now “newly technologized, socialized and networked.”

I have stated previously that the internet is altering the way people think. Writing is one example. Writing is no longer an isolated, delineated event wherein one person writes a book, some people read it, and that's the end of it. With the internet, writing becomes open-ended. Blogs and websites have comments; message boards continue indefinitely.

Another thing: the internet allows anyone and everyone to be a writer, as opposed to a published few.

The internet is more democratic than the traditional reading/writing paradigm of published paper literature.

I tend to think of reading and writing of two sides of the same coin. But the two activities are not related so simply. At it's most basic level, reading is passive. Like a television, a book tells us the way it is. It is static. Writing is open-ended. You can write about anything; you can create anything. I thought: If you can read, then you can write; readers are writers and vice versa. This is not accurate. A society that mostly reads is much different than a society that writes.

Kathleen Blake Yancey wrote an article entitled, "Writing in the 21st Century."

Yancey notes that writing has never been endorsed in schools as much as reading has because society prefers a passive citizenry.

Writing has never been accorded the cultural respect or the support that reading has enjoyed, in part because through reading, society could control its citizens, whereas through writing, citizens might exercise their own control.
Reading—in part because of its central location in family and church life—tended to produce feelings of intimacy and warmth, while writing, by way of contrast, was associated with unpleasantness—with unsatisfying work and episodes of despair—and thus evoked a good deal of

I read a similar comment recently, to the effect that upload speeds on the internet are a fraction of download speeds. This promotes consumption and discourages contribution.

Yancey's ariticle proposes that writing has always been associated with isolation, frustration and displeasure.

An interesting point is made, concerning the fact that modern writing classes focus on the mechanics of grammer, and traces this habit back to penmanship.

In fact, it may be that what George Hillocks has called our over-attention to form in composition instruction began in our attention to the form of handwriting, because in the early part of the century, much instruction in writing was no more than instruction in penmanship. Much as in the case of grammar today—when grammar is identifed as writing (Yancey)—writing itself in the early twentieth century had little if any status or identity apart from handwriting.

Perhaps, writing education should be more pleasurable, expressive, free and artistic; and perhaps, the focus should be shifted away from learning where to put commas and how to capitalize proper nouns.


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