Thursday, August 23, 2007

A Case of Video Killing the Radio Star?

Do you all remember when PBS first came out with that Civil War program where like it was all letters from soldiers and stuff?Remember the first time we were given a peak at the handwriting? The length, breath, and depth of the content? Did you think, my god, why don't people write that way anymore?

Well, I do,
and did,
and by gum, it really made me feel like we'd lost something.

I mean, I guess we were still writing letters, though, not really Corresponding anymore. That, as my high school history teacher once said, really was an art form. There were topics you could and should write about, and those that were to be avoided like the plague. Kinda like writing school papers, or having work conversations, maybe? How is the weather and all that noise?

Besides, we had "evolved," we were TELEPHONE people.

Who needed to sit at a writing desk and write and rewrite and edit and begin again and maybe one more time, with feeling! That's what the phone was for. Hours and hours blabbing to friends and confidants, or crank calling our enemies. No "Dear John" letters, instead, you could break up with your beau "live" if not in person. No more "angry" letters to your folks or complaint letters to companies, just get on the phone and torment them during business hours! Or something.

It was like having them right next door! And best of all, they could tell how you were feeling just by the sound of your voice.

Then came the internet. Why call when you can shoot off an email? Who needs grammar? Just write how you talk! What a concept! "Chat" live if you want to relay a message right now. Only, and therein lays a sleeping dragon that's been waking up recently, words on paper, written stylistically, grammatically correct or incorrect, if not done perfectly, or at least the way the "professionals" do it and geared toward a very specific audience? They will leave the reader lacking.

Just like you never know just how you look through other peoples' eyes, you really won't know just how you "sound" or "read" to others until after the reactions come in.

The thing about a written work is that it's a two way street. The writer really really really wants to convey particular information, a specific message, and maybe a certain feeling. It's the reader's job to take in the symbols on the page (written or electronic) and transform them into meaning. What that meaning ends up being depends a whole bloody lot on how your reader is doing that day: hungry? depressed? elated? tired? caffeinated? angry? You name it, it alters what you, the writer, have written.

So, say when reading a blog or an email or anything, if you are not the intended victim---I mean reader? You are going to take it in a way very different from the original intention. At the same time, if you, the writer, are so in your "moment" in your "groove" in your "in it" that you are not taking the uninitiated reader into consideration? It will be like gobbledy-gook.

Why or why is this all swirling in my brain?

Couple reasons.

There is the personal one that keeps scratching at me deep down. The one that says it's all my fault that I can't keep in touch with the people who I thought were close to me because we just can't/don't/won't communicate well anymore. Because something that was written in a card, an email, a letter, a text message, etc., was taken so far in the "wrong" way that ties were severed. How many people have come and gone from others' lives because of a mis-written word? The mind boggles.

And then there is the funnier work-related stuff that makes me want to bang my head against the wall until it makes more sense. This one I can go on about a little more as the previous reason still kinda smarts. I think I'm running into brick walls about the written word with certain folks because they honestly aren't used to using this "email" technology stuff and only have an email address because it's expected to be on their resume...or something.

I've completely given up using electronic means to communicate with many people to save both the head and heartache involved with the complexity of simply turning on a computer. Others I don't even pick up the telephone for, they need to be face to face, or still things will go terribly. Horrifically funny, yes, but terribly.

Then of course there is that aspect that, having been an English teacher makes me cringe...some people can't string more than a couple letters together to begin with. Let us not torture them or ourselves with anything written, because god almighty made people to be accountants and scientists and techies and NOT English teachers for a reason! These people are wonderful at what they do! It just might not have anything at all to do with the English Language. And if they read your email and are boggled because you use such things as humor or sarcasm, lord help us all.

Questions? Comments? I'd love to read them.


tana said...

Here here and well said!

Bezzie said...

A coworker and I were just musing about this when we received an email from a executive from a major pharmaceutical company that used the wrong "there."

It's funny you mention the intent of the written word, and also the dying art of handwriting letters. My mom, as you know, obtained (contracted? got? had?) her breast cancer. I asked her if she had told her sisters as they are blood relatives and it can be genetic. She told me that she hadn't. When I asked why not, she said she had given up writing to them years ago. Apparently they would bitch about how they never heard from her, yet when she took the time out of her busy days of chasing around six of us little brats, when her sisters received the letters, they would complain about how they couldn't read her handwriting. (Even though she's my mother--it's not that bad of writing). There's an interesting tie between interpretation of writing on the meaning of the words and interpretation of writing based on face-value asthetics only.

And yes, this probably isn't the most eloquenly composed blog comment. You've gone and made me all self-conscious about my cyber-writing! ;-)

Beth said...

My daughter is reading Benjamin Franklin's autobiography for her English class. It's amazing how our language has changed in such a short time. It makes me wonder what we'll sound like in another 200+ years.

It's so hard to get one's meaning in an email or blog post. I try really hard to reread what I've written. And I've been guilty of typing too fast and I end up doing what Bezzie was talking about - using the wrong "there" or "to" or "your" or whatever.