(Not Quite) One Thousand Words

I keep hearing that text is on its way out. People don’t read. Your blog post should be fewer than 800 words. People want visuals.

While all of this may be valid, I for one am standing by text. Written language is a wholly unique form of communication, and what it does cannot be replicated or replaced by Vines or Instagrams.

I don’t remember what life was like before I could read. I started reading early, and words on the page became my anchor in the tumultuous sea of childhood. Reading still settles and stimulates my mind in ways that watching movies cannot. I’ve never been able to consume audio books. I don’t want to hear the words, I want to read them.

The internet has changed our relationship with written language, reducing much written communication to 140 characters. In the beginning, the internet was mostly text. Bandwidth limitations meant even small photos caused load times to go through the roof. I remember waiting 10 minutes for a web page to load in the late 1990s. It was a good time to go make coffee.

The assumption has always been that people want more media from the internet. Now that we can view unlimited videos, who needs text? Clearly, some people do, or sites like Longreads and Medium would not be as popular as they are.

Reading a word is a very different mental process from hearing a word. When you see the word ‘effervescent’ your brain translates those characters not into sound, but into sensation and meaning. Some people “hear” words in their head as they read, but pronouncing the word — internally or otherwise — is only one aspect of reading the word. There are all kinds of amazing things that happen when you hear a word, too. I’m not knocking it, but it’s different.

Read these words: Liquid. Charming. Refract. Embody. Painstaking. Vertigo. Potent. Vermillion. Fingertip.

I don’t know about you, but for me reading a list of words like that is a visceral experience. Not only does my brain connect each word to my own personal lexicon of sensations and meanings, but it also tries to find context. It looks for the connection among the words, even if I know none exists.

My relationships have become more text-based in recent years. Don’t call me. Text me or email me or tweet at me. While text-based communication can lack the intonations and body language we use to understand each other, there’s something powerful about writing. When I write to someone, I think about each word — at least a little — before I send a message. Speech can be so clumsy and unpredictable, especially for an introvert like myself.

I’m glad that the internet can now be home to almost any form of media (sculpture is still a problem, until we all have 3D printers). I love good photography, and I’m thrilled that I can watch videos of all shapes and sizes. But I’m not giving up on text. I mean, obviously, look at all these words I’m typing.

Reading and writing are closely connected to critical thinking, and that’s something everybody needs.



Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s