I know, I’ve been away again for a few days. What can I say. Sometimes I have a life off the computer. Not often, but sometimes.
Today I want to begin by talking about a different kind of writing, not just putting together those nifty little stories that get sent through the airwaves to editors around the world, but in a way it does include those.
In recent weeks I’ve re-involved myself in using snail mail for something other than paying bills. And yes, I still use snail mail for bills. Somehow I just don’t trust the net to safeguard something as vital as my bank account. Call me old-fashioned if you must, but remember one thing. Hackers don’t just deal in viruses. Just saying…
Regardless, I have been communicating with other people by something called real mail, a little thing invented centuries ago by those who wanted to say something, ask something, what-have-you, to a person some great distance away. Of course, during those times, months would pass before a response arrived–if the person was very lucky.
Can you imagine that? Even as late as the 1950’s Americans waited up to two weeks to get a response from a creditor, to hear about a death in the family, whether the latest grandchild had come into the world whole and healthy. Telephones, you say? If you were lucky enough to have one in your home and could pay for it, I suppose that would work, provided that the other party also had a phone, could pay for it, and could get your number.
Now, back to real mail. My sister and I were talking about taking up pen and paper and actually writing another person. A cousin had asked an incredible question. “Do you ever wonder why they taught us cursive in school?” And she was correct in asking the question.
I used to have beautiful hand-writing. No more. Why? Because I so seldom have to use it for anything anymore. Typing has become my normal communication skill because of the net.
Then someone else piped in. A writer friend of mine asked much the same question, only hers went something like this: “Do you ever wonder if anyone will be able to write long-hand within a few years?”
Well, actually, I have wondered that very thing. No one’s been able to read doctors’ hand-writing for scores of years. It’s become a tired joke, in fact. But think about this. For the doctors that still do hand-written ‘scripts, how many of those ‘scripts get filled wrong because the pharmacist couldn’t read them properly? Could really be important to know the answer to that question. A study has been done, in fact, to answer it.
I began writing personal notes and letters and sending them to people I care about, using real stamps and writing my address on those envelopes rather than using address labels. And yes, I know how convenient those labels are, but I just moved, you know? The freebies haven’t caught up to my new location yet.
It’s amazing how delighted people are to get real mail and not just bills, junk mail and flyers. I admit that, I too, enjoy the sensation of slitting open the intriguing envelope to see what wonders it holds, always looking at the upper left-hand corner to see who was so terribly thoughtful as to send me something in the mail.
In recent years the only time most people see a hand-written anything is at Christmas, an occasional b-day card, or an anniversary card. People don’t communicate anymore with each other on the intimate levels of tangible friendship and care.
The net has taken away something vital to personal well-being that few recognize, I think. Speed has become so common in communications now that we’ve lost touch with each other in a more visceral way. And we’ve lost touch with ourselves, too.
We no longer take the time to really ponder what we do feel about anything critical with more than an instant’s thought. Years ago we created for ourselves, in this country at least, a disposable society. Fast food ended the real necessity for families to eat at their own dinner tables. Drive-thrus became the norm to the point of wedding chapels with drive-up windows. Now there’s a recipe for future bliss. In and out in three minutes, that will be thirty dollars, please.
Instant gratification has replaced thoughtful consideration and personal satisfaction. The corporate world has so generously fostered the mentality that has brought us to this juncture in our society and everything is done in overdrive.
Now you’re going to ask, what does this have to do with writing? It has everything to do with it. Watch TV or gone to the movies lately? How many really original things have you seen? Where are comparable movies to Sohpie’s Choice or The Piano Diary? Where are TV programs that make a person think and put together his/her own opinion? I’m talking network here, okay?
Sequels of so-so films and TV programs are the norm now, followed closely by sad remakes of earlier classic films or programs, followed by remakes of ones from other countries.
And why is that? One reason is that writers who have original ideas aren’t taken seriously much of the time because those in charge of the monetary flow want only what’s made big bucks in the past. So you get five years of vampires, werewolves, zombies, V, and the like. Mainstream writing has a bad enough problem with it, but the children’s genre suffers badly, too.
It’s not the publishers’ fault really. They are trying to keep their heads above water financially so that they can still put books out into the market. Readers aren’t really to blame either. So long as the feeding frenzie continues in any form surrounding a given book topic and gimmick, the reader moves with it. After all, readers talk to each other, discuss the merits of this or that and what each thinks will happen when the story continues.
The writer who wants to be published finds him/herself in the crosshairs. Go too far away from what’s popular at this moment and risk having no publisher take a chance on your work. Go too close to regurging what’s popular and have publishers back off because they don’t want copies of what’s out there on the shelves already.
So the writer does lots of research to look into what might be the next big trend, regardless of whether it’s a personal preference or not. Like I said, crosshairs. The writer begins panning for gold, looking for nuggets in the publishing streams around the world, hoping against the odds that a few flecks of glittering brilliance will deposit themselves in the writer’s mental gold pan.
At that point time becomes the factor to deal with. Speed again takes hold of the process so that the writer doesn’t get left behind in what could be a lucrative trend in the market.
Oh, I know this is an oversimplification. I get it. But the meat of the problem remains. We’ve run away from those things that stood for quality in order to create quantity. Anyone with a new cell phone today or digital camera can make films and spread them around the world on Youtube and become famous as a result. Anyone with a blog such as this one can write almost anything they want and see it published instantly.
This is our world today and probably for the future as well. I can’t help but wonder, however, how much more we’re willing to give up as a society for the sake of instant gratification and speed of communication. We’ve come very close to losing the ability to write long-hand. We’ve pretty much chalked off snail mail as being irrelevant. We’ve turned our bank accounts over to those who operate the internet along with our credit cards. We’ve even taken to using cell phones to call people sitting in the same room, building, etc.
When you stop long enough to ponder this new reality, what does your mental picture look like? Tell me what more you think we’ll lose from all this. I’m curious to know. And this is the only address I have for you, so I can’t even use snail mail to reply.
Personally, I intend to revisit some of the older ways of doing things for a little while. Speed is all very well, but it can get you killed, too. For my own sake I need to slow down a bit, ponder more carefully my choices, and proceed on a path I’ve mapped out for myself with my own hand.
Talk to you soon.