- Books, Literature, and Writing
Reinventing the art of writing- An evolutionary necessity in the making
Writing is physiologically and psychologically a human activity like no other. The language and cognitive centres are fully engaged in ways they cannot be even while actually speaking. The big optic nerves are fully active, and the net result of all this is that the brain is more active as a whole than doing practically anything else.
The extremely rapid evolution of the English language from Chaucer through to modern English has effectively transformed the language from a hybrid relative of old Saxon to its present form. The massive changes in the functional dynamics of human beings have expanded language drastically requiring not only increased vocabularies but much more flexible vocabularies.
The digital age is simply amplifying all these issues. It is almost impossible hold a conversation without using a range of terms and expressions which simply didn't exist 20 years ago. With this have come completely different frames of reference for written text. The never-to-be-sufficiently blessed invention of the hyperlink has been a great relief to everybody and is actually better economics for both writers and readers. Cross checking information from multiple sources is now infinitely easier.
However – Even these are relatively superficial improvements. The fact is that the language is obviously about to expand even more dramatically. For writers, the ability to put down useful information in the simplest and most effective forms is the essence of good writing. For readers, the ability to dodge verbosity could be described as a survival skill. That's where the big moves in the evolution of writing are originating.
The drivers of the evolution of writing
Readers, in fact, are likely to be the drivers for this big evolutionary change. The dynamics of reading have changed almost beyond description. The ability to access information and to thoroughly research a subject has been much improved, but there are still major issues. Anyone who has ever done online research will be aware of the large amount of fluff which is regularly found. Well-meaning, or some might say sadistic, writers often over-write their materials and scramble what would otherwise be clear messages.
Far worse is the simple fact that methods of writing have moved to almost business letter banality. What is written, in fact, is the filtered version of what may or may not be valuable expression. Information is expressed, as well as merely put into text form. This is a big issue which will emerge as a future solution, as well as a current problem.
Hence the need for better expression and better economics of writing on the basal level simply to do even the basic work of writing anything. Further to this the addition of new media has added a very necessary, but somewhat distracting number of dimensions. While this media is basically very useful, there is no doubt that it also serves as a break in continuity in some ways. Readers suddenly become viewers and then go back to being readers. It's hardly a seamless transition for those trying to learn or enjoy their reading or viewing.
There is actually a mathematical relationship between readers and their materials – And I hope mathematicians will forgive me for including an unarticulated Mandelbrot equation – "Reader is to subject". This equation represents the relationship as a moving dynamic between reader and subject materials. When reading, the reader is often expected to endure paradigm shifts, logical movements, and a range of other basic cognitive experiences. Add to this distractions, hyperlinks and visual media which engage the optic nerve and therefore the rest of the brain, and the potential for writing a mess increases exponentially.
To add quite unnecessary insults to a messy situation, the sages of language usage have demanded briefer writing, minimalism and a range of other methods of reducing the actual content of materials. This is a truly thankless concept at best. Unless the information itself is simple, writing it won't be simple. This "simply" won't work. I have actually seen people say that they expect to get the full message of a website in 30 seconds. My own website contains the elements of of 14 books, thousands of articles, graphics and music. I'm sure that would be a very interesting 30 seconds, but I doubt it'd be very informative.
Then there's the other ancient hack – "People don't want to read long articles". If nothing else, this indicates that somebody has a very interesting, probably brief, relationship with the information that they receive. Perhaps it means that if you want to learn biology, you'd rather not spend a lot of time doing it. Very practical.
You can see where this is going – The language itself must by definition become progressively more efficient simply to keep up with the dynamics of human realities. This actually means two things –
·The new dynamics of language must include accuracy of expression.
·The language itself must change very flexibly and rid itself of anachronisms and dysfunctional operations like ponderous syntax.
The future- Maybe
There is always the risk, when writing anything which could be considered a prediction, of merely predicting and not acknowledging that there is a future after the prediction. In the case of language, all predictions need to acknowledge that any theory regarding the future evolution of language will be almost instantly superseded.
That makes predicting the future of writing a very interesting subject indeed. Clearly, neither modern writers nor modern readers necessarily want massive useless tomes. The effective use of media in context with writing is still in its infancy and blundering along nicely. It's almost at the grunting stage.
There is even a conflict of interest for writers using media –
The written language has one gigantic advantage over all other forms of media – the written word directly contacts the reader's mind. The reader interprets, visualises and develops information independently of the other senses. They showing a video help or hinder this process? Arguably, providing the visualisation denies the reader the right to visualise. Alternatively the external visualisation will be picked up and processed at the speed of the optic nerves, which are extremely efficient.
Use of media like 3D enhances the visual experience, but does it enhance intellectual experience? Do we need a form of "3-D writing"?
As a matter of fact that's not quite as weird as it sounds. The original printing the books frequently involved woodcut illustrations and other at the time quite revolutionary ideas. Some of the most deeply loved books of past and present include some quite beautiful artwork. Even the ancient manuscripts include illuminated lettering and some fascinating and often quite hilarious visual materials.
The interesting thing is that a lot of these materials included oblique references sometimes on and sometimes off topic. A Celtic text might include a few dogs running around the no reason at all or mysterious characters doing mysterious things. This was the level of thematic flexibility in writing 500 years ago. There is no reason to believe that modern technology couldn't at least make an attempt in this direction.
Writing actual content is certainly going to change a lot. The big issue is the necessity for content, and media can't contribute much in this area. A picture does not paint 1000 words. If it did, you'd need a warehouse for War And Peace alone, not because of the number of words but the fact that well within 1000 words the subject matter tends to shift context quite a lot. 1000 words of Shakespeare, for example, would probably require an entire art gallery.
All of which leaves writers with a major problem. It's a historical problem but this time it's also extremely relevant – Content quality. The most likely outcome of the development of new media and a whole new language is going to be a requirement for much improved content. Some writers, God knows why, seem to think that information and expression are somehow mutually exclusive. Suffice to say that that is not the case.
One of the most beautiful passages written in any language was written by a Japanese mother who lost her young son. She wrote a Haiku poem, the first line of which was this:
"Where are you now, brave hunter of butterflies?"
Consider for a moment the amount of information contained in this almost incredible piece of expression. Now consider how many truly mediocre ways of expressing the situation are possible. All these ways are strictly speaking perfectly normal writing, normal expression, and informative. I would suggest to you readers that all those forms of expression are utterly useless compared to the single line.
The fact that the cognition and visualisation centres of the brain directly hooked into reading means that we are far more deeply affected by one line which doesn't even refer to the basic facts of the situation than a dry, remote statement regarding a mother losing her son. The Haiku actually stands on its own, and implies the rest of the information without actually mentioning it. That's writing, in anyone's language. Hopefully, future writing will be a strong combination of expression and information, not this sickly separation of two mutually useful tools.
The basis on which written information is retained and properly understood on multiple levels is definitely going to be a major issue in in reinventing the art of writing. I look forward to the day when writing achieves its true potentials as an art form.