Contemplating the Future of the Written Word

Last week I wrote a post entitled, “An End to the Written Word” that generated more e-mail than most of my posts have in the past. The e-mail content covered a broad range of thoughts and emotions about the written word. Of course, it’s hard to imagine that anything we have used so successfully for so long will eventually go away, but that’s how technology works. A technology is kept only as long as it’s useful. However, I need to provide some more input on my thoughts about the written word based on some of the e-mails I received.

Let me put one thought to rest immediately—I’m not just talking about paper print. Yes, everyone has been predicting the end of writing on paper for many years now and if anything, some businesses actually use more paper than before the computer revolution. However, paper will eventually go away in its entirety. There are a number of indicators of its demise in my own life and I’ll share them with you.

 

  • Manuscripts: At one time I sent my manuscripts to the publisher in printed form. I boxed up my books and sent them for editing in double spaced form. The manuscript would come back with editors marks in place at some point, I’d make any required changes and send it back (the postage really got out of hand at times). In fact, paper would pass back and forth several times before a printed book came out. The process was incredibly slow. Today I’m using electronic media for all my book needs and my printer is collecting dust.
  • Royalty Statements: All of my royalty statements used to come in paper form. Some of them still do, but many of them come electronically now. I eventually look for the huge folders used to store my tax information to become quite svelte indeed.
  • Contracts: A lot of my contracts are now issued in electronic format. I use an electronic signature to sign them. Not only is this approach faster, but I don’t have to provide storage for bulky contracts any longer—the contract goes right into the same folder as all of the other electronic files for my book.
  • Book Purchases: Most of my books are now sold as e-books, not as printed books. It will eventually become uncommon for me to sell a printed book. In fact, I have to wonder how long I’ll continue to obtain printed author copies.
  • Banking: More and more of my banking is done electronically. Even when I do send a check to someone, they often don’t send it back to the bank. The transaction is performed electronically.


I’m sure you can come up with examples from your own life, but the fact is that printed matter is going to go away. However, that’s not what I’m talking about. Eventually, writing itself will become something that professionals use to express abstract ideas that can’t be presented in some other way. People will commonly not use any form of writing because there will be other ways to convey thoughts and ideas to other people. In fact, those other ways already exist. I don’t look for writing to go away in my lifetime, or even in the lifetime of my grandnephew or grandniece, but I do look for it to go away.

Many of the uses that writing once fulfilled are being filled by other technologies. For example, it’s quite possible that contracts in the future will be written using a video record, not writing. A mortgage might show an actual recording of the property in question and include pictures of the participants in the deal. An iris scan of the parties will encrypt the video so it can be played, but not changed. Of course, this technology is quite futuristic indeed, but the concept isn’t all that hard to grasp.

Books and other forms of general communication are already starting to become more visual and less written—it isn’t much of a leap to think other communication will follow. Sites such as YouTube have become popular because it’s easier to show a video of an event than to write about the event in words. In addition, the recording is actually easier for other people to understand. Sites such as Facebook also rely heavily on graphics, not on the written word. The point is that anything that is concrete and easily conveyed using a combination of audio and graphics is already being presented in precisely that form, without written words.

I’ll be discussing this topic more as time goes on, but for now, this gives you an idea of some of the questions I’ve received. This whole idea of writing going away has taken some people by surprise (and others simply expect it to happen). What are your ideas about writing? Let me know at John@JohnMuellerBooks.com.