Forgetting How To Write
Technology is changing how we communicate and think and threatening our freedom.
I remember writing pages and pages of cursive writing just to be able to train myself on being able to write faster and neater. Cursive writing is no longer taught in schools and it’s a shame. There was something so tactile and pleasurable about writing letters and it felt like I was going through a rite of passage. It’s not just writing that’s changed, it’s our entire form of communication and it’s being influenced by technology. One of the first “games” I had on MS DOS was Typing Tutor. I’d spend hours typing away. While writing was contemplative and slow, typing felt more goal oriented. In our interactions with technology, we’re going to lose some methods of communication that we’ve known so far and this will change how we think and potentially weaken our will.
The first big change is the demise of being able to write in cursive. If you have to print your letters, your words don’t flow — literally. Each letter is an e f f o r t. The mental load to print each character means we take away some capacity to retain longer sentences and more complicated thoughts. We have to break apart thoughts and this leads to the lowest common denominator of complexity of an argument.
The second mode of communication that’s being lost is the long form email or communicating through documents or articles. Fortunately, there does seem to be a resurgence of long form writing among Gen-Y and Gen-X but millennials have run away from email. Email is treated as instant messaging without a character limit. There’s less formality in language and the communication style is designed for least effort in responding. What’s lost here is the ability to think longer term and contemplate the effect that language will have on the recipient. This leads to an inability to pause and map out an argument.
Another newer style that affects our ability to communicate is the memeification of language. Using gifs to communicate is great for conveying a thought quickly and, hey, it’s often funny, but it creates culture silos. Facebook and Google make it very easy to search and insert gifs in messages. Emojis are another extreme altogether. These memes are having a shorter shelf life and if we try to go back and review a record of our communication, we might not be able to understand ourselves in a few years time, let alone someone else who was in a different silo than us.
In Politics and the English Language, George Orwell complained that vagueness allowed governments to euphemistically justify their bad behaviours. In a similar vein, the degradation of language today will make us more susceptible to influence and less able to create a cogent argument for us to remain free against oppressors.