There’s been a lot of talk in recent years about the decline and coming demise of words printed on paper. There is certainly something to this, although it seems there will always be people who want to hold words on paper in their hands. While we are lamenting this, some people also assume that this decline will result in a concurrent decline in the interest of the printed word altogether.
I think this is a false assumption. In fact, I think there has been an explosion in the attention paid to written words. Before the recent advent of the digital age, people were glued to their TVs. They got stories on TV and they got information on TV, largely without the use of words. Everything was just shown to us. And we assuaged ourselves into believing that the trade-off was togetherness. The family was all snuggled up on their sofa, watching together six hours a day.
Also during this era, the transmission of words onto paper was still extremely laborious, as it had been for centuries before. People did get words out there. But those needing to get it out had to struggle with typewriters that required a knowledge of the QWERTY keyboard, a backspace and Wite Out to fix errors, linotype machines to put metal sentences into rows from which they could be printed with ink on paper and then delivered by trucks.
Today everyone is a writer. We tweet, message, email, text, write stories and novels, and if you are a kid in the civilized world you learn the QWERTY keyboard, how to speed type and how to fashion words into what you want to say by the time you are eight years old. SpellCheck fixes your errors, no costly ink and paper required. And for editing, just highlight, copy, delete and move words around with ease. EVERYBODY writes. And everybody needs written words to make that happen. Lots of them. Lots more than ever before.
How can we forget that words are not about the delivery of them, but the fact of them? And how can we fail to notice not only that our children have a thirst for them, but because of a side effect of the digital age—the collapse of telephone use—we text words. We now do about 80% of our former telephone calls by texting. And thank God for that. Texts are seen in a glance. Telephone calls interrupt whatever the hell you are doing. Golf. The theater. Being in flagrante delicto (look it up on Google). We are slaves to our telephones no more.
It is my belief that this dramatic increase in the use of written words is raising all boats. Bookstores, it turns out are NOT all going out of business. Newspapers are NOT dying. And there is a huge surge in storytelling. We are being inundated with The Moth Radio Hour, with Garrison Keillor and David Sedaris, with essays, factual accounts, readings and books. Here in the Hamptons when Louis C.K. comes to town, people stand in line to hear him. There is Fridays at Five where authors speak, there is Authors Night at the East Hampton Library, there’s the Writers Conference at Stony Brook Southampton, there are essay writing competitions such as the Dan’s Papers Literary Prize for Nonfiction, and there are literary salons that people go to where they can hear authors speak.
None of this was happening in such abundance 10 years ago.
I will leave you with this story. You could watch it on YouTube but it will seem cruel. But with words, it’s just hilarious.
It’s called “How to Bathe a Cat.”
What you will need: A cat. A bathroom. A brick. Liquid soap.
Flush toilet in bathroom. Raise toilet seat lid. Confirm that toilet is clean. Put liquid dishwashing soap in toilet. Find cat, carry into bathroom. Drop cat in toilet and quickly lower toilet seat lid. Hold down toilet seat lid with left hand while putting brick on toilet seat lid with right. Flush. Rush out of bathroom and open door to backyard. Rush back to bathroom, leaving bathroom door open behind you. Wait until flush completes. Stand to one side. Remove brick, raise lid.