In "Regret Everything," comedian Will Hines gives a weekly update on the thoughts that are gnawing at his brain.
It's ironic that as technology gets more and more magical that the oldest of mediums the written word has come back so strongly. I communicate almost completely by typing these days. I recently emailed someone, "is there anyway we could talk with our voices to figure this out" before I remembered that I was sending that message over an actual phone.
And that's not just me. When choosing how to communicate, everyone prefers WRITING. Sure, it's mostly in short bursts: Facebook status, twitter bios, YouTube comments, smart phone email signature, clever IM handles, inside jokes in passwords, tumblr re-blogs and gchats. But still, it's words. We are all writers, even if it's just 140 characters at a time.
The last time culture was probably so tied to writing might be the pre-telephone era of the late 1800s. In London, the post (yeah that's right, I said "the post," which impossible to hear in anything but a British accent) would deliver letters up to five times a day. It was common then to receive a message, read it with the postman standing there, and dash off a quick note for him to take with him. It's not so hard to imagine Jane Austen dashing a quick "OMG Mr. Darcy is SO EFFING CUTE. Enclosed: daguerreotype of kitten playing harpsichord."
Other parallels between now and olden times: People had their own personal ways of signing letters. Poet John Keats would often end his with "I always make an awkward bow, John Keats." It's more elegant but not that different than my cousin's iPhone signature of "Sent from my pants."
It isn't hard to see the pages of letters to the editor as a more formal version of an active comments thread on YouTube. "Yo, I read that Ralph Waldo Emerson essay and: DICKENS DID IT FIRST!!!!!!!!!" or "George Eliot is a woman? Drawings or it didn't happen."
Maybe fewer exclamation points and more serifs, but same snark.
Taking the most optimistic outlook possible, is Facebook raising a generation of electronic letter-writers who will put Thomas Jefferson and Virginia Woolf to shame? At the very least, internet writers are much better at talking dirty with acronyms.
E-mail has brought love letters to the masses. There is no seduction anymore that doesn't include at least some degree of correspondence. Even if that correspondence is just a 3 AM text that says "u up?" that counts as writing.
And more likely, any modern courting involves some amount of textual healing. Start with favoriting each others tweets, or looking at someone's OkCupid profile, and then some Facebook messages, pretty soon you're exchanging full-length emails with no virus protection.
A unique aspect of modern writing: it's almost all done in public. The idea of secret diaries will vanish in favor of cleverly obtuse Facebook timelines. "Dad! I can't believe you correctly inferred my public journal!".
The handwriting analysts of the past will be replaced with detective agencies who specialize in figuring the truth behind people's public online personas. They'll analyze the Facebook walls of one's ex-boyfriend or ex-girlfriend and try to read between the "like" and "comments" to see who they're falling in love with next. If Humphrey Bogart were alive, he'd open his movies with narration like "This dame walked into my office, a twitter feed as long as my arm. I knew I was in for a long night when I saw how many reblogs her tumblrs got."
What does the future hold? I picture a smart phone that makes words appear over your head like comic book speech balloons. Or glasses that let you see someone's Facebook status when they come into your field of vision. E-mail that is physically implanted into your spinal fluid. Autocorrect that improves not just your spelling, but the quality of your jokes. Emoticons that have scent and weight.
How long until Kindle features a section of eBooks which are just the collected electronic quips between two famous people? More than Denis Leary's tweets, I envision a much more comprehensive collection of all the funny, smart, dirty, caring things written between a straying husband and his co-worker, or a yearning young lady and distant paramour, set in chronological order texts, tweets, and actual letters.
The Tumblrs of Henry Miller and Anais Nin.
Emily Dickinson's Hardcore Status Updates.
Or at least
The Super Hot Twitter DMs of Ryan Gosling and Eva Mendes
e.e. cummings couldn't do it. Autocorrect would screw him up and his name would get filtered out by Google SafeSearch.
If you have any comments on this article please send them to me by: Facebook status, Twitter DM, Tumblr post, IM, gchat signature, e-mail, telegram, handwritten letter or stone table. Phone calls will go right to voice mail.
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