Remember the days of high school English class or getting a big paper assignment in college? I do. I never minded the act of writing; I was the type that thought having a “pen pal” in some far off country was pretty cool. (Mine never wrote back). However the concept of getting an assignment that had to be ten double-space pages with a max of a one-inch margins or a paper that had to be exactly 1000 words always seemed daunting. I always waited until the last minute to do it that made the entire experience even more traumatic.
My personal favorite was from Mr. Hart’s AP English class: Describe your view through an imaginary window. I am still slightly aggravated with myself to this day, or I should say, perplexed, that I didn’t just think to look out of an actual window in my house and describe what I saw. Instead I sat at my desk with the worst writer’s block, tapping my pencil against the desk, painfully trying to force an imagined view into my head. What’s funny is I think back now to the trauma of it all and really can’t remember what I wrote; I think it had something to do with icicles.
So it is with that in mind that I often think about how much the web changed the written landscape. Think about how many writers and content producers beyond traditional media (you know, the people who loved writing and creating the stuff even back in high school). Many of them are a direct result of the advent of the digital pen. Much of the content produced may not be Poe, Emerson, Rand or Shakespeare but it doesn’t need to be. Clive Thompson has an essay called The New Literacy in the September issue of Wired that focuses on this phenomenon and also reflects on whether the “digital pen” is hurting the overall quality if writing.
People are creating some of the best content on the web today. Blogging enables thousands to produce incredible content across genres. Think about a well-thought blog post that you’ve read recently. Descriptive title, subject statement, number of paragraphs backing up an argument and some type of conclusion perhaps. That sure sounds a heck of a lot like the type of assignment many of us ran from. And that doesn’t scratch the surface. There is the micro-content world that Thompson touches on such as Twitter and Facebook. Look at the extent of content, solid writing at that, taking place in the enterprise in the form of business plans, emails and PowerPoint presentations.
Content creation takes place us around us all the time. Writing is getting churned out like crazy. The digital pen has enabled us to publish our thoughts in an easy way. Even those of us who dreaded writing our view through an imaginary window could rail something out in 20 minutes without thinking twice. I find this truly amazing.
And guess what, how’s this for an essay? 519 words. Knocked it out the iPhone on the train ride into the city this morning. Wonder if Mr. Hart would approve?