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How technology puts pressure on the written word

We seem to be texting more and speaking less. We are meeting people on Facebook and where we write to them before we talk to them. Can our written skills truly cope?

When my great engineer friend George tries to find a girl, the first thing he does is write a profile on some subtly tawdry dating site.

When he finds a girl and hopes to keep her around, he has to text her--or, perish the concept, Facebook her--the right thing at the right moment in order to maintain her fascination.

He is destroyed when she doesn't text him the right thing at the right moment back. Yes, he's a sensitive engineer, but still. So much of his interaction with humans in both love and work occurs through letters and words that are written down.

The pressure on our ability to impress with the written word has surely never been more acute. Somehow, when phones first came along, everyone honed their ability to yak. Naturally, this suited Americans because they had adored yakking for decades.

Chris Matyszczyk/CNET

Yet, as phones became smarter and Zuckerbergs became all-pervasive, suddenly it wasn't just depressively difficult writers who were faced with a blank piece of paper. It was everyone.

The paper was now a screen, but the problem of translating one's thoughts and wishes through words written down loomed like a specter at Disney World.

Will she get that I'm joking when I write: "You have control issues"? Will he understand what I mean by "I think we should be ready to ship when a Kennedy becomes president again"? Can all the executives I'm writing to simultaneously grasp that what I'm really trying to say is that they're playing politics, wasting my time, and pointing this company toward Oblivion, which is one town over from Waterloo, Ontario?

For all that technology is supposed to be destroying the newspaper business and the book publishing business, it's surely putting the writing business severely under examination.

Some laugh at kids who text acronyms rather than known words. But these kids are trying to deal with all of the issues that writing things down entails. You know, stuff like "What's another word for cool?" and "Aw, this takes so long."

Yet a culture in which writing things down had almost become a lost nature has suddenly had to adjust to the notion that we are being judged--more than ever, perhaps--on our ability to express ourselves, charm, persuade, impress and even sympathize through cold, hard, joined-up words.

The Web's proliferation and entanglements might mean that our attention spans are shorter. It might mean that our ability to read books of more than 30 pages is non-existent and that our grasp of politics is severely impaired by our delusional enthusiasm for watching cats eat dog food while juggling two MacBook Airs on their nose.

But one strong way of getting what you want in this Era of Technodominance is to perfect a writing style that expresses what you want to say in a way that people instinctively grasp.

It's frightfully retro, isn't it?