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The world is an ever changing place, and with the advancement of cyber culture technology, many times we are faced with new ideas and ways of life that we never dreamed would be possible. With these changes, we are also faced with the making personal decisions of whether we believe these new ways have helped or harmed the world of writing.
I remember the moment e-mail entered my life. It was a week after my family had dropped my older brother, the first born, off to his freshman year at Bowling Green State University. Within that first week of having to adjust to setting one less plate at the dinner table, we quickly realized how fast we would become financially broke due to high phone bills. We had heard about this thing called the internet, where people from all over the world could connect to and communicate via electronic mail, but not until we became aware that BGSU provided each student with her/his own personal e-mail address were we interested. That was the moment. My dad quickly looked into it and before we knew it we were connected. Every day, several times a day, we would disconnect the phone line, listen to the awful dial tones, and sit five inches from the computer monitor, anxiously reading about his college experiences. As Wendy Lesser, author of essay, The Conversion, writes, “And e-mail, by bringing back personal correspondence, reintroduces us to the form of writing that best enables us to know and acknowledge friendship.” (Tribble/Trubek 232). It soon became our link to the outside world. Not only did it keep us in touch with our beloved hard working college student,
but just as Lesser experienced, it created a doorway to other long lost friends and family members. In a way, this new e-mail thing made us feel as though the miles that separated us weren’t so far after all.
In his essay, From Pencils to Pixels, Dennis Baron states that, “The computer, the latest development in writing technology, promises, or threatens, to change literacy practices for better or worse, depending on your point of view.” (36) Cyberculture technology will never cease to change and improve, but by being a part of this society, we have the unique opportunity to jump on board, accept the changes, and enjoy the advancements to our benefit, or sit back and watch the world pass us by.
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The life of writing has come a long way. We look back in history to find that there was once a time when writing did not exist, a time when writing was expressed through pictograph scripts, a time when writing was only for the educated and scholarly, and so forth. Because of the advancement of society and of technology, writing is now something that most people cannot avoid. In fact many people’s success relies on their ability to write well.
E-mail has been a technological advancement in writing that has raised many questions about just how successful one can be, based on the opinion that a person’s writing skills are harmed due to the physical typing nature of e-mail versus hand written work. Baron later states in his essay,
“I readily admit my dependence on new technology of writing…I found that I had become so used to composing virtual prose at the keyboard I could no longer draft anything coherent directly onto a piece of paper. It wasn’t so much that I couldn’t think of the words, but the physical effort of handwriting, crossing out, revising, cutting and pasting, in short, the writing practices I had been engaged in regularly since the age of four, now seemed to overwhelm and constrict me, and I longed for the flexibility of digitalized text.” (36)
E-mail is one technology that many people have used to replace old forms of writing. Some might argue that the act of physically writing sparks a certain creative nature inside of a person’s mind, stimulating their thought process that is irreplaceable, but I argue just the opposite. I was never a big fan of hand writing a letter. For the majority of my life it was the only way to communicate in writing so I had to accept it. I just never felt emotional connection to sitting down at the kitchen table, writing, whiting out or erasing, writing some more, crossing words out, using page after page of my mother’s stationary, just to write out my Christmas list to Santa Clause. And to be quite honest, from a left-handers perspective, typing on a keyboard is much better than dragging my hand through freshly inked paper.
Over time, e-mail has replaced what has been termed as “snail mail,” or delivering letters via a postal service. It seems that the advancements that e-mail brings to today’s society are hardly anything to complain about. We are able to keep in contact with people more quickly and conveniently. At one point, internet access was more limited than it is currently, but today it is readily available to just about anyone that wants it. From a busy internet café in New York to the mountains of Lima, Peru, if you have a computer and a phone line, you’re in.
E-mail is a form of writing that brings a certain sense of freedom. We are not limited by the length of a letter. Nor are we limited by the price of postage. A person can sit down and write an e-mail or several e-mails for hours to anyone about anything. Some may be afraid that e-mail looses the personal touch that writing brings with it. Lesser reminisces, “Where was the handwriting in all this? Where was personal style?” (227) I will be the first to admit that e-mail not only did not hinder my personal style of writing, rather gave it encouraged it to flourish. I have never been more enthusiastic to receive “mail” and respond to it. Several years ago I had a roommate that studied abroad for a semester in Mexico. In one email we joked that writing and reading e-mails is just as good as a conversation if a physical face-to-face conversation isn’t possible.
“Hmmm....Maybe we could coordinate a time and print out
our emails to each other and read them out loud while
we lie in bed. Then it'd be kinda like old times. =)”
One concerning argument that Sven Birkets, author of essay, Into the Electronic Millennium, shares with his readers is,
“There is no question but that the transition from the culture of the book to the culture of electronic communication will radically alter the ways in which we use language on every societal level. The complexity and distinctiveness of spoken and written expression, which are deeply bound to traditions of print literacy, will gradually be replaced...” (70)
One can understand the Birkets’ concern if the alteration of language and written expression due to electronic communication was anything to be concerned about. I believe there is a difference in the way people write informal e-mails versus informal written letters. There is a certain formality people often feel they have to follow when writing a letter. E-mail has proven in my life that informality of written expression
prevails. I am glad of it, too. I would be just as uneasy about writing e-mails if I felt the formality of written letters applied to e-mail as well. The following e-mail is one I wrote to my roommate who was studying in Mexico at the time, relaying a story to her about our pet rabbit, Elton. It is a perfect example of just how informal and expressive e-mails can be,
“OH MY GOSH...Elton did the FUNNIEST thing today!
Haha. I was getting ready for class this morning and I
had to go into the living room to get something.
Elton was out and I guess he thought I was going
to try and catch him and put him in his cage, so he
started running around and...HAHA...oh my gosh...
I've just got this mental picture...haha. Anyway...
so he took this HUGE running leap from the gold
couch all the way to the tv stand and just FLEW
into the kitchen! Like, picture a flying squirrel...
that's what he looked like! HAHA! So there's this
rabbit streaming through the air and, no joke, his
jump made it all the way to the kitchen table! HA!
And he totally hit the chair and fell and rolled until
he could get back up on his. I thought he hurt himself
but he's fine! Haha. Ha. Oh I wish you could've
Then came her response,
“Ha haaaaaa your email entertained me SO much. I'm at
the standup email compus and I laughed like 5 times
and the chick next to me gave me a dirty look. Oops.
Guess I violated some Mexican code of conduct: no
laughing at the standup computers. People in the
computer lab are really funny, when someone gets too
loud everyone goes Shhhhhhhhhh! like it's a library.
That story about Elton was awesome! He's growing up
so much! Remember when he was scared to jump off the
couch?! Now he's flying. What a talented bunny. It's
because he's Mexican, I think.”
It is clear in the emails that the concerns of Birkets and many others do not matter. From the written expression of laughing out loud, to every capitalized letter, any one person would be able to read the emails and understand the emotions of the two people corresponding. I would argue that even though there is a sense of formality that comes with writing a letter, there is still room for adding personality. The way we use language on every societal has been radically altered. Is that so terrible? Like every other technological advancement brings change to society, e-mail is no different.
So gone are the days of ink stained hands, wasted sheets of papers, and expensive postage. E-mail has undoubtedly changed the essence of writing. Since we cannot change the outcome of e-mail, the only thing left to do is embrace it. Written expression is a dying breed, but taking a typing can’t be anymore painful than early elementary penmanship classes.
Tribble, Evelyn B. and Trubek, Anne. Writing Material: Readings from Plato to the
Digital Age. New York: Longman. 2003.