Language: Can You Write It?

With the presidential election and all we are in something of a holding pattern these days. And social media as well seems to be wallowing, its vitality slowly leaking out. Mitch Joel’s post today tackled an aspect of this slow-down, albeit from a nicely optimistic point of view.

It occurs to me that we thought social media would become far more diluted by now. Three or four years ago, we had the Big Three – LinkedIn, Facebook, and Twitter – but we assumed they’d be supplemented by many other options. None of universal appeal have appeared, however, with the exception of Pinterest and the dubious possibility of Google+.

And I think the reason for this is that the internet requires content, which means it requires writing. The written word is what is track-able via search engines; it’s the way we tag and catalog. Sure, you can do videos or audios or pictures, but even these will gain no attention without properly worded tags.

The issue is generally ignored, but the internet’s insistence on skilled use of language stumps the general public. The majority of us do not write with any notable skill, nor do we understand the English language with any depth. I would bet, for instance, that of all the people who have Facebook accounts, only a tiny fraction actually post something every day. It’s simply too hard to formulate a thought in writing. We love to read other people’s posts, but composing our own takes too much effort.

The resistance to writing even spills over to the readers, who – we all know – would much rather look at pictures than read. Witness the astronomic rise of Pinterest.

These thoughts make me wonder if the current slow time is not just seasonal but symptomatic of an overarching dissatisfaction – discomfort? – with online communications. The internet’s reliance on the written word must either morph into something more pictorial, or consumers on the web must heighten their awareness of and facility with language.

I read a post a couple weeks ago that stated unequivocally that the writer’s company will not hire people who lack grammar and writing skills. The author mentioned, for example, that those who mix up their its are out of the running. A lovely instance of loyalty to language. I left an appreciative comment.

The general public – which includes most small business owners – has lost interest in language. It seems that even news channels don’t bother to proofread, to the point where some of their reportage is incomprehensible. It seems that no one cares.

The mastery of writers like Mitch Joel belies this observation, and I want to believe in his positive assessment, that ” … what’s truly new is that you (and me) are stepping up our games (because we have to).”

Because until we devolve into a hive-mind, it’s difficult to see how we can do without the written word. And as long as we’re dependent on writing, it’s going to help if we’re fluent in it. Indeed, if more of us could write really well, perhaps social media could truly come into its own.

As it is, we’re grasping at the tails of a mythical bird that’s flying too high.