"You'll never get ahead if you don't take care of what you have." - Doris Waddell, RIP

A historic building on our U of M-Morris campus - morris mn

A historic building on our U of M-Morris campus - morris mn
The multi-ethnic building was the original home of the music department at UMM. (B.W. photo)

Monday, July 27, 2015

Has writing technology made us smarter?

I did no writing at all for three and a half years after leaving the Morris newspaper. It would have been fun writing about Taylor Witt's senior year of football. I would walk to the brand new Big Cat Stadium and see what all was going on. I remember the scoreboard coming gradually into view and seeing that both Morris and Paynesville had scored over 40 points. It was "sandlot football," to use Donnie Eich's description.
The Internet was well established at that time. But I think a lot of people weren't real well-versed in using search then. I remember telling a friend, a very well-educated person, that I had some Morris Eagles baseball photos online. "How do you find them?" he asked.
The Internet was still somewhat exotic in the first decade of this century. Web 2.0 is what changed everything. In those Web 1.0 days, organizations would put up a billboard style of site. Such sites had novelty value at the start. We were all amazed by the Internet itself when it came into existence. Heck, I was amazed at VHS tapes when they came into existence. No such thing existed when I was in high school. I'm old enough to have gone through the 8-track tape phase.
It was Del Sarlette who convinced me I could establish a blog site and it would be no big deal. I had seen a big thick book at the Alexandria mall bookstore: "Blogging for Dummies." Turned out, no book was needed at all. Google guides you right into it.
Blogging is simply an online platform for writing. Say what you want about "blogging," a reasonably good writer can get a big enough audience to make it worthwhile. I do consider myself a reasonably good writer. Allow me to tell you a little secret: since opening this new phase of my writing pursuits, I have gone back to the system I used in high school and college. By that I mean, I write out the first draft using pen and ink and a spiral notebook. I type it and post it later, using public computers. I say "first draft" but it's really pretty close to a completed product. I only do a few superficial alterations after that.
If you're my age, you remember when typing something was a terrible chore. Those were the days of manual typewriters. Electric typewriters came along but they weren't much better.
Nobody enjoyed "typing." A newspaperman would bang out an article, rip the paper out of the typewriter and then do so many pen and ink corrections, he could just as well have written the whole thing with a pen. The article would then go to a "typesetting" department. The typesetters themselves could screw things up. I remember when I submitted an article about an archer (bow and arrow) enthusiast of note in the Hancock area. Upon proofreading, the article needed the usual 3-4 "correction lines" to be typed to handle typos. One line stated "there is no great financial reward" from the bow and arrow competition circuit, but the typesetter typed "there is now great financial reward." The archer came in and brought it to my attention but he had a friendly disposition - no big deal. He said "it was caught" in terms of people knowing what was meant.
Newspapermen would submit this grotesque combination of typed and handwritten material, with stuff crossed out all over the place, as if it was some badge of honor. Like climbing a mountain. Today - well, I don't have to tell you it's completely different. You make corrections on the computer screen. When you're done, it all looks completely polished.
I remember the prolific columnist Harvey Mackay writing about this, how much more fun writing was, in the computer age. One effect of this is for writing to be more conversational, easier to grasp.
There was something about the old, Neanderthal system that encouraged writers to do things in a more contorted, labored way. Sentences were longer. Writers felt they were "crafting" something instead of just communicating something to readers. A lot of old "classic" literature got carried away with writing craftsmanship, the objectives of which were different from simply communicating in a cogent way. The teaching of Edgar Allan Poe should be outlawed. OK I'm exaggerating. It should be taught as a curiosity. That guy was crazy.
I remember coming across a pile of old "Picture" magazines in our basement. We saved them because they had articles about Minnesota history. As I perused, I was amazed with that outdated approach to writing in which the writer wanted to impress us with writing technique. I used that technique myself in college classes to try to get an 'A' grade, usually successfully. Today we just write to communicate. The idea is to get from point 'A' to 'B' in the most direct manner possible. "Big words" or "50-cent words" are used only to be absolutely precise about something, not to try to show you have an education.
I remember the great cartoonist Del Holdgrafer of Donnelly teasing me by saying "I think you have a little too much education." I think it was when we first met. I probably still had some of my bad college habits. Members of my generation could be a little smart-alecky then. We might use a big word to rattle people's cages, to try to show we were smarter than the generation that acquiesced to the Viet Nam war.
I once had a musical compatriot, a guy who taught at Southwest State, who would have fun trying to explain the occasional big word I used. When a member of our band asked "what does that word mean?" he'd always chime in in the same way: "inundatious." No matter what the word was, he'd say "inundatious."
Today everyone is a writer. We live in a communications-drenched universe. I'm not sure our sensibilities are really propped up. Look at those Republican presidential candidates. Look how we got conned into the Iraq war.
I remember how the "Zeus" character in the original "Clash of the Titans" philosophized at the end of that movie, saying the amount of mendacity among humans would never change. Alas, how true.
I'm not sure I'll write about MACA football this fall. The revelations about the sport of football just keep pouring out. I wonder how the parental permission slips are worded these days. "This sport could kill your son, seriously maim him and cause his brain to deteriorate." OK I'm speculating. It is unconscionable to allow your son to be in it. I notice Alan Page is retiring from the Minnesota Supreme Court. I have to wonder if the writing is on the wall there.
- Brian Williams - morris mn minnesota - bwilly73@yahoo.com

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