Has the Internet killed writing and literacy?

June 13th, 2005 by Bob Bly

My theory is that the Internet has and will continue to diminish the importance of writing skills and the quality of writing over time.

The reason: Pre-Internet, documents were printed, with considerable expense invested in the design and reproduction.

Therefore, publishers and other content producers would take pains to ?get it right.?

After all, once the piece was printed, correcting a typo, grammatical error, or awkward sentence meant going back to press ? again at considerable expense.

In the Internet era, documents are increasingly electronic files posted on a Web site.

Making corrections is easy, and in fact a whole new category of software ? content management systems (CMS) ? has evolved to manage these changes.

Now that content producers realize mistakes are quick, easy, and inexpensive to correct, they are not as concerned with getting it right the first time.

As a result, they are not as particular about the quality of the writing, editing, and even thinking their organizations publish.

So it seems to me that, if anything, writing skills are less important in an age of technology, rather than more important.

Also, the Internet has sped up the pace of business and society.

Therefore, the primary attribute valued today in writing — or any other product or service — is speed, an attribute to which quality often takes a back seat.

Do you agree?

This entry was posted on Monday, June 13th, 2005 at 8:58 am and is filed under Writing and the Internet. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

112 responses about “Has the Internet killed writing and literacy?”

  1. Joel Heffner said:

    When one publishes a book with a real publisher, the publisher has real editors doing their thing. Most stuff that gets online is done in a hurry, without the benefit of outside (qualified) eyes. In addition, the current craze for podcasting puts the written word even further behind. Now just about anyone who can talk, can get their “thoughts” listened to. :(

    A site that I just put online a few days ago challenges folks to write a 100 word story using a very silly story starter that the site generates. It will be interesting to see how many folks will take the effort to write something interesting.


  2. Dave J. said:

    I disagree. I think the frequency of writing has increased, which can only improve the writing. Email, especially forces us to be more accurate and clear in our writing because we have a critic on the other end of the line who needs to understand what you wrote and what you meant.

    Blogging, too, forces you to write better, or no one will be reading what you write. In the old days, you just wrote in a journal and hid it from view because you weren’t ready to let others read it.

    Websites, too, are slaves to feedback. Yes, they are fast, but the ability to revise them only strengthens their quality.

    Traditional print publishing may suffer, however, because writers are now used to this quick feedback.

  3. Susan Getgood said:

    As always Bob a great question :-) I think you are both right and wrong. Right in that there is a lot of stuff out there that is pretty shoddy product (blogs, websites and podcasts). “Peeple who cant spel and aint got no spelchek”

    Wrong in that I truly believe that good stuff rises to the top (just like cream). The online publications and podcasts that last longer than the standard 15 minutes will be comparable in quality to traditional media. And that is irrespective of whether produced by corporate professionals or individuals. We get good and bad from both sources.

  4. Don Marti said:

    I’m with Bob here. Just because random Internet people can pop in with fixes doesn’t mean they will. It’s kind of like software beta tests. People won’t dive in and clean up a mess for you.

  5. Jim Logan said:

    Has the Internet killed writing and literacy? Reading my blog would tend to support that conclusion :-)

    There are certainly many poorly written websites, blogs, and associated e-materials available on the web today. But there are more shared opinions and communication than at any time before. An interesting tradeoff?

    Great writing will always be valued. We all know it when we read it.

    Writing is a talent. Reading numerous sites on the web highlights just how talented some people are. The rest of us strive to be half as good.

  6. TonyD said:

    Well, the news isn’t all bad. I see a lot of low-end Web site paying writers to churn out content that’s a simple duplication of what the writer found on the competitor’s Web site. A lot of this work is outsourced at a ridiculously low rate. On the other hand, I also see companies that have learned from their experience with budget writers that good content that’s correct in spelling and grammar is worth paying for.

  7. Mike said:

    I think it’s more of a parental problem. Parents turn their kids over to the sate schools, who get paid for them being in class, NOT if they learn. Parents are too busy to see if the schools do a good job and then blame the teachers that little Johnny can’t read or spell.

    You had ’em and it’s your job to make sure they turn into responsible, FUNCTIONAL adults.

  8. Kevin Stirtz said:

    Agree and disagree (to be succinct). Agree because I see a lot of junk on the ‘net that should never be published anywhere. When anyone can publish, the low-end of the quality scale drops through the floor. But, we’re all better off because we can now share ideas and thoughts from many more people. And, like Susan suggests above, the quality writer will still rise to the top. In fact, we’ll see even more good writing than ever before because more good thinkers and writers will have the opportunity to share their work with us. How can that be a bad thing?

  9. Laura said:

    I’m not sure if I agree or disagree, but I definitely feel your pain! Any written representation of an individual or professional entity will be a reflection of that person or entity, and should therefore be checked carefully for errors prior to publishing (or posting online, or some other medium). Spelling and grammatical errors are a personal pet peeve of mine, and I think that “spellcheck” is contributing to the problem. While spellcheck is a blessing for some who simply struggle with grammar and spelling, it is not a cure-all, and it certainly makes many others lazy. It makes us rely on it to do our editing work for us. And when we’re not using the part of the brain that handles spelling and grammar, it gets weaker, just like a muscle you don’t use often. Mistakes begin to go unnoticed (if we bother to look for them in the first place.) My advice? We should be making sure we practice our editing skills more often, instead of letting the computers do it for us! This is obviously not going to fix the problem, but it would be a good place to start…

  10. Wendy Maynard said:

    I have a mixed opinion. I believe the Internet has increased the abundance of content – some very poor and some brilliant. In the last decade and a half, strong writing for websites has increased in demand. That said, people who can’t write well are writing more often because they have the technology to do so. They are (unfortunately) churning out poor writing. I don’t think that this means that people view writing skills as less important. As a professional writer, I do not find my writing skills in any less demand than in the past. If anything, my addition of marketing knowledge and healthcare website writing has increased interest. Plus, I see the interest in political blogs and niche e-books growing. In many ways, strong writers are able to make more of a name for themselves than ever before.

    Thanks, Wendy Maynard
    Kinetic Ideas: A Marketing Blog

  11. Proven Ways to Get New Customers said:

    Writing has changed. Readers have shorter attention spans, and it takes greater effort to get their attention. The average consumer is confronted with >5000 commercial messages per day: Bumper stickers. Coffee mugs. TV ads. Radio spots. Print ads. Blimps. And more. Much more. Therefore, effective copy must be punchy. Lively. Relevant. Laced with humor. It must confront and challenge the reader’s beliefs about something, anything. In short, the best copy nowadays must work to DISQUALIFY (or at least piss off) passive readers, while HYPER-QUALIFYING the 1-or-2% of those readers who have the capacity to become long-term customers.

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