Sunday, August 12, 2007

Text is Good

Text is good. That might not be an shocking statement, but it does run counter to recent assumptions concerning the education and practices of modern youth.

For much of the 90's we were told that “Johnny Can't Read” and that TV, video games, and waning educational standards had made our children a generation of illiterate media zombies. Even when they do attempt to communicate, they resort to dialects that are viewed as further devolution of the English language: l33t speak and the cryptic text messaging abbreviations, FCOL.

Given all the doom saying and the recent meteoric rise of non-written communication such as YouTube, you might think the youngest members of the work force would be barely able to put two words together. However, evidence points to the contrary.

Text is still good. In fact, text may be better off now than it has been for a long time! Yes, readership of printed newspapers is declining, but the number of blogs – written communication at its purest – is increasing at a phenomenal rate. 55 million blogs worldwide by one count, with 84 thousand new blogs discovered each day (blogimpulse as of August 12, 2007).

I am not claiming all of these blogs are literary masterpieces or even reach beyond a rudimentary level of speech, but they are the first sign of the resurgence of text. And the fact that the blogosphere has maintained its remarkable ascension is at least in part due to the excellent, often previously undiscovered, practitioners of the written word at work there. Many of the prominent bloggers -- such as David Weinberger (JoHo), Corey Doctorow (of Boing Boing), and Robert Scoble (Scoberlizer) -- stand out as much for their writing ability as the ideas themselves.

Even in the arena of video games, one of the primary bastions of slackerdom, writing has come into prominence. A number of blogs and bloggers have risen to the top as gaming “journalists” Many of these writers have traditional journalism backgrounds, either as students in college or through previous jobs at newspapers and magazines. (Many of them still maintaining those roles.) The video game blogging sites, from the rambunctious Destructoid to the more explicitly journalistic and commercial Kotaku, Gamasutra, 1Up, and IGN all display a real knack for the written word.

Again, I am not arguing that these sites are replacements for traditional journalistic media (newspapers and such). They tend to promote a form of “new journalism”-- post-Hunter Thompson gonzo journalism, without the self-destructive impulses but keeping the fierce personal perspective. They encourage a sort of rapid fire, off-the-top-of-the-head commentary. (This is a broad generalization and many of these sites do occasional “features” to provide room for more indepth evaluations. But in general they do cater to the fast and furious reading style of their audience.)

Whether these larger sites like Gawker Media are “real journalism” or not is a topic for a different discussion. My point is that, either way, they do represent lively and adept writing and they are immensely popular, proving the resurgence of text as a good thing.

One last thought: The use of a contemporary venacular – whether it is leet speak or over-the-top text messaging acronyms – is a hallmark of every generation and is consistently decried as a sign of the imminent collapse of society as we know it by the previous generation. Whether it was Jive in the 30's and 40's, the language of the beats in the 50's, flower child lingo in the 60's and 70's, or the Gansta talk of the 90's, each generation finds a way to self-identify (and exclude others) through language. Some small portion of each gets absorbed into the ongoing lexicography of our culture. The rest is history.

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