Post-Verbal Society

A few years ago, I was preparing training for electrical technicians.  I had written some multiple-choice test questions, and when I delivered the training, some of the trainees did not do well on the test, despite responding well in class.  On discussing the issue with the training staff, it turned out that even fairly short questions (two or three lines) were so hard for the trainees to digest that they could not respond correctly… even though they knew the answer.

Purveyors of the printed word have fallen on hard times, and the most successful newspapers seem to be the throwaways, mostly filled with advertising, that one picks up before one’s morning commute.  But now people listen to their iPods, or just sit there.

The latest computer gizmo, coming out this year, will be the ‘slate:’ a non-folding laptop computer with a touch screen and no keyboard.   Since we don’t need a keyboard any more to maintain the computer (which has been true for a while now), if you don’t actually need to write anything, what good is the keyboard at all?  (You can pop up a virtual keyboard for the occasional Web address or credit card number.)

I write this blog mostly to vent, and to help me clarify things in my own mind.  I’m not sure if anyone reads it; what I understand about how people view the Web suggests that they probably don’t.  As a practical matter, I don’t really care.

But I worry about my son.  He finished college, but is casting about to find a job without success.   Although he studied something else in school, he’s a writer.  The market for writers has come crashing down like everything else.  But beyond that, what will happen in the future when we decide we don’t need the written word anymore?

Last week, I watched Fahrenheit 451 on the tube.  The film posits a world where the written word has been outlawed.  Not only do firemen go on runs to burn books, but there is no written advertising, no product names on packages, no safety advisories on public transit vehicles… nothing.

“Your file is incomplete, Montag,” his supervisor tells him, in the movie.  “We need twelve back views you your head, but we have only six.”

But I suppose that will never happen: people still write text messages and Twitter each other.

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