When I began copywriting for websites, I started by searching through some how-to articles for pointers. I was aggravated and disappointed to find everyone recommending simple, direct, and action-packed. Not that I have a problem with engaging content, it’s just that all the classics of literature take the time to establish the setting and characters. The most reputable authors wrote from a totally different perspective than authors today.
Who else can we blame except the expanding media channels? With the advent of information access came the simultaneous dilemma of information overload. An author 200-500 years ago had no television, radio, Internet, or telephone for news and information updates. They had word of mouth, some newspapers, pamphlets, letters, etc. The pace of life was such that the literature produced reflected a life of contemplation, observation, and stillness. There was no sense of frantic suspense or blistering action to be found.
Traveling was so inconvenient that many people only traveled into town once a month. They stocked up on supplies and news and headed back to the family farm. Of course, there were city dwellers who had weekly access to gossip. Still, cultures worldwide knew nothing of the mind boggling pace we endure in the 21st Century.
I blame the Internet and the television for poor writing skills. First, the television sucked up the hours of daily life previously spent on reading and communication with family and friends. Then came the Internet, Instant Messaging, and Text Messaging. With the advent of the Web, we have access to billions of information soaked pages, yet we have to choose a minuscule percentage of information available that we will actually give any attention to. This leaves authors and marketers around the globe scrambling to liven up available content. Competition is fierce (as in the publishing industry), and the selection is so plentiful that people don’t have to spend time on lengthy descriptions and soliloquies. With thousands of voices vying for our attention every day, we give time to those few that are most compelling and immediately accessible.
The art of writing has largely been lost as we fight against the clock to absorb and distribute unprecedented volumes of information. It seems that nothing short of a return to agrarian society could deliver us from our ADD-based writing and reading skills. In other words, either choose to read hyper-focused drivel or remain oblivious to the world today and return to the classics. Or live in the wonderfully frustrating tension of balancing the relevant with the artistic.