Tuesday, February 16, 2010

William Souder thinks I am destroying writing

Ok, so that title is a bit narcissistic. He thinks blogs and twitter are doing it.

The new electronic wave is a tsunami of words, but one in which formal writing is being devalued and destroyed and steadily replaced by digital writing, that strange, wonderful, scary, compressed species of expression that is bleeding the life out of the written word.

It really is a shame that we are getting writing that sounds more like how people actually talk than how folks up in the Ivory Tower think. But ok, fine, I'll give it to you. Blogs are way too colloquial. But books still exist.

You're at least equally likely to be reading this essay not "on" paper, but online.
With luck, this essay will get boiled down to a handful of simple declarations noted on blogs and websites.

Luckily, I did actually read it on paper. But wouldn't his head have exploded if I had been reading it on my phone? I'll try not to pare his essay down too much. But hey, such is the medium!

And yet I look at a device like the Kindle with horror. Yes, you can read "Moby Dick" on one. But why would you -- unless you were, say, stranded in Logan Airport in Boston late at night and had a sudden urge to read "Moby Dick"? Then, one supposes, it might make sense, if not for the fact that when you went to download "Moby Dick" to your Kindle you would sleepily discover that it is available in that digital format for free. In other words, thanks to electronic publishing, this 656-page classic of literature is now worthless.

Wait, what? I thought it was the written word that was dying, not the paper and ink used to convey it. And how does making a classic more widely available make it worthless? I would think Mr. Souder would hail the widespread distribution of such a classic of written word to us unwashed masses with computers. Did Moby Dick increase in worth as the prices for paperbacks jumped from $1 to $7 over the past half century? Wait, even better, if worth is based on price, Sarah Palin's Going Rogue must be an instant classic! That one costs $28.99 new! That's far more than Moby Dick has ever cost! There are better uses for the Kindle than Moby Dick regardless.

The enormous revenues once produced for publishing houses by writers like Stephen King and Tom Clancy used to subsidize the much greater number of less-famous writers whose books don't necessarily make money but which were, once upon a time, worth writing and worth reading.

Actually, that's no longer necessary. With services like Breadpig, anyone can get published. No doubt Mr. Souder would find it horrifying that I'm comparing Randall Munroe's stick figures to whatever obscure author he had in mind while writing that sentence, but my point stands. You no longer need to submit your work to the editors at Random House to get published. Which is fine, since nobody reads the slush pile anymore anyway.

One hallmark of the literate mind is a rich vocabulary. Smart people look up words.

Ok, so he's advocating writing like "a literature professor with a big ole stick up his butt," to paraphrase West Wing. I'm not sure why I should strive to make my writing incomprehensible to the public, but continue.

Here's one worth knowing that may have occurred to you if you've read this far: Luddite.

[...]More recently the term is applied to anybody not totally down with new electronic media and all that they imply.

[...]The question before us is whether texting and tweeting and e-mailing and turning books into ephemeral electronic pages still leaves us with the written word.

I have my doubts.

Well, at least he admits it. Sort of. His is just one example of a cacophony of voices lamenting the rise of the internet and blogosphere. I'll join a different cacophony, the one calling for a moratorium on cranky old writers complaining about the internet. Leave us alone, and go back to your ever dwindling circle of self-congratulatory writers and your indescribably boring 10,000 word essays in paper publications that lose money.

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