A Post-Literate Future?

It’s easy to be affronted by the poor standard of spelling, grammar, syntax and other markers of a decent education – from a previous era, at any rate – which we see in contemporary written communication. You read emails where people don’t know how or when to use apostrophes and they write proper nouns with no capital letter and commit all manner of like infringements. (And I’ll probably make a few clangers, since I’m writing about this subject, just to make me look silly for bringing it up.)

However, although it might be easy to say people are largely stupid or they don’t care or they haven’t been taught properly how to express themselves in this medium, it seems to me that this is a misleading assumption. Sure, it looks bad when people can’t write properly. It really does. But other conclusions are possible when such evidence is before us. People are in a hurry, and they type quickly, and that’s more important than a beautifully constructed and pretty-looking piece of writing on the computer screen. And, I think, another key consideration is that in this computer age people are forced to use their keyboard to communicate. People who would never have used a typewriter in times past can actually type very quickly, if perhaps a little sloppily, and it is the nature of the computer machinery and the input devices which we use to transmit our thoughts through it which influence the aesthetic of that communication, and its accuracy. Hence we see time-poor people create a written language which works for them as they text each other on their mobile devices, devices with small buttons and small screens and limited space for the message to appear, and that language then migrates to other areas of communication which are not so physically limited, like the proliferation of LOL and HTH and LMAO and other acronyms used by correspondents at computer keyboards making comments on internet message boards. Yes, many of these correspondents don’t appreciate the value of good writing, but they know no better, they are used to communicate in this way when they use their phones, and the new symbols and terms which have emerged and are emerging are testament to the limitations of their own skills as well as the personal devices they use.

It seems to me, though, that a lot of this could merely end up as a sort of anachronism. It is almost as if post-literate individuals are caught in a situation where literate techniques are their only means to talk to each other – and for the literate among us it looks bad – but when technology catches up and the devices also move fully into the post-literate age then this phase will seem like a passing interlude which was quite strange while it lasted, but is over now. Right now there are servers which back up and store our communications and our documents (and our amusing videos, and holiday photos) and allow them to be accessed at our convenience and shown to other people, and I just wonder whether in the years to come with more storage on more powerful severs whether what will be stored is uploaded video (and audio and other sensory records) of our day-to-day lives, recorded initially on mobile devices like phones, and other gadgets as yet unknown to consumers, and whether there will be a time when all of our experiences, with perhaps a small amount of editing (like when we take numerous shots with a digital camera and delete all except the best few), will be backed up and available to be rewatched and repackaged as a kind of virtual accompaniment to the actual experience as lived and the actual memory as remembered. And in this post-literate future, will written communication be so necessary for those with no interest in expressing themselves this way or will email, for example, become a kind of quaint vestige of a previous, more polite, more genteel era?

I wonder.

I do like a well written email though.

Published in: on May 27, 2012 at 7:57 pm  Leave a Comment  

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