The following is an excerpt from an article published in The New Yorker Magazine.
“What the Enron Emails Say About Us,” by Nathan Heller captures an unfortunate but growing trend in our society with regard to education and execution of the written word.
I highly recommend the entire article for its brilliantly exposed truths, but the section below extends deep into my daily life and I applaud the spot-on analysis.
“Given that e-mails can imperil governments, it seems odd that correspondents spend so little time reviewing basic work before they press send.
Writing, along with fire-making and the invention of the wheel, is widely held to be a milestone of human progress. This view will seem naïve to anybody who has read much human writing. In its feral form, prose is unhinged, mystifying, and repetitive. Writers feel moved to “get things down on paper,” usually incoherently, and even in guarded moods say alarming stuff because they don’t know where to put commas. (“Time to eat children!”)
The true wellspring of civilization isn’t writing, it is editing.
E-mail, produced in haste, rarely receives the requisite attention. That is bad for us but good for posterity, and for students of the literary gestures we imprudently put in pixels. When inboxes are gathered, cracked open, and studied, they become a searchable, sortable atlas for the contours of our social minds.”
I can say from harsh personal experience that editing is indeed a vital, too often overlooked, art. The number of mistakes I correct in my own work often leaves me wide-eyed and laughing. But that says nothing of the things my wife uncovers and later brings to my attention. I confess those things pointed out are true head-scratchers, but I cannot deny my fingerprints all over them.
Cursive writing is no longer taught in most schools, and though I never truly mastered the skill, it has become a lost art in the realm of keyboards, touch screens, and voice commands. Communication is a vital key to accomplishing any goal, and the written language is what survives us in records of many kinds. It is far more difficult to express emotion and intent in the written word versus face-to-face, which makes the craft of a written message all the more important. My wife often accuses me of writing everything pointed toward great oratory, and I will take that as a compliment. Granted, that style might not translate well in a pages of a fictional novel, but when remarks are well crafted and delivered with verve, they have the potential to become hallmarks of our history and society at large.
Just think of how many great quotes you know but might not be able to name the author. The right words at the right time matter, and always will.
-T. August Green