Saturday, January 12, 2008

Writing, A Lost Art

"A well-turned phrase usually requires the prodigious use of an eraser."

These words of wisdom are something that I came up with some time ago while struggling to come up with just the right phrasing for something that I was trying to write. That it took me so long to come up with that phrasing speaks to a level of intelligence that I am often embarrassed by. That I chose to spend such a long time in the attempt speaks to my interest in good writing and my desire to become a better writer. That I sometimes succeed in doing so is a constant source of amazement to me and I fear unfortunately, a sign of my age. The unfortunate fact today is that much like basic math skills began to disappear with the introduction of the calculator, basic writing skills are also fading away. Something that used to be considered part of a well-rounded individual, the use of proper spelling, good grammar, and proper sentence structure are becoming a part of history. A number of years of failing education in this area, the reliance on computers with spell check and grammar check, and the increasing use of abbreviated language in text messaging on cell phones is making the skill and art of true writing a lost one. Amazingly to me, this appears to be of little concern to this generation that has lost these skills, as reading too is losing its attraction for them.

At a time when technology has created the greatest opportunity in the history of language to express ourselves, we bastardize its use in order to communicate. Improper or no capitalization, poor spelling, little or no sentence structure, and horrible punctuation seem to be the rule in spite of all of the ways available to correct it. We get our news in sound bites on TV, our books on CD (when we don't just give up and wait for them to make the movie), and our conversations through mini emails on tiny keyboards on our cell phones. Gone are the shining examples of the written word, faded away like the often lofty ideals that they attempted to portray. Instead we find ourselves with such plums of literary phrasing as:

u r here

txt me

and of course,

Even here in the blogging world there are far too many efforts that border on illiteracy. The focus these days is far too often the quantity of content and the passion of the writer, rather than on the method of expression or the proper use of language. This is not to take away from that content and passion, as it at least shows some interest by these people in the world around them and a desire for something better (even when what they want is wrong or misguided). I long however, for some of the well turned phrases from literary efforts of the past. If the ideas are that important to the writers, you would think that expressing them in even a somewhat coherent manner would be of paramount importance. There are certainly exceptions to this in the blogging world (and I won't embarrass either the failures or successes by mentioning names), but shamefully, the examples that lower the literary bar are far to many to simply discount.
Now don't get me wrong, it's not that I consider my own contributions of prose as something comparable to Jefferson or Shakespeare (unless you are talking about the really hideous TV show from years ago or the fishing reel, and I probably suffer by comparison even then), but I do make an attempt to show some level of technical skill in the art of writing. That's one of the reasons that I have to limit the number of postings that I put up. It's hard work to come up with something interesting, carry that thought through in some rational manner, and attempt to make it both interesting and readable (and occasionally amusing, of course). This process, at least for me, requires considerable effort, time, and editing. First efforts are rarely the best, and even second and third efforts can normally use a bit of tweaking (as I am doing on this posting now, even in the last moments before putting it up). Every posting becomes a difficult birthing process, even by my limited standards for publishing.

Perhaps all of this is just a sign of a change in society really doesn't make a difference, and shouldn't be something that I get all wound up about; but I mourn the loss none the less. I know, I know, that it is a sure sign of age to long for the "Good Old Days" and this is certainly not my goal, as the posting of the same name should easily point out No, what I mourn for is the the potential loss of some truly great idea by someone who is truly gifted, because of being unable to properly communicate it to the rest of us. What great philosophies, stories, and insights may become lost to us, ignored because of the inadequate ability of the technological shorthand that we have made so much a part of our lives.

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