Written text will survive as a communication medium for two main reasons; 1.) We don't have anything that can replace it, and 2.) Society as we know could not survive without it.
Writing is, quite simply, a symbolic system used to represent language. Hieroglyphics, cuneiform, and the many different systems of letters and pictograms, are all forms of writing.
It doesn't matter if the symbols are recorded and displayed on a piece of paper, a movie screen, a computer monitor, or a cell phone. They are all writing. Writing does not have to be done by hand, it can be done on a computer, with spray paint, or through text- messaging on a cell phone.
"Text" is simply the words of something as originally written, which differs from an "interpretation" or a "paraphrase".
So written text is stuff we write down and transmit in its original form. Written text will not only survive it's being accelerated through the web, email, and cell phones. It flourishes.
THE VIRTUES OF WRITTEN TEXT
Written text is so necessary in many fields that it's amazing anyone can think it would "go away".
There is no other form of expressing language as precisely and verifiably as written text. Business contracts, judicial judgments, scientific papers, and countless other documents would be unwieldy if expressed in any other medium.
If you were buying a car, would you feel comfortable with an audio recording of someone stating the purchase agreement? Absolutely not, you'd want it in writing. If an environmental impact statement on a new power plant were submitted to your local government, would you feel comfortable if you knew there was no permanent written record of the statement and the government's rulings? Yeah sure they'd have the Audio Visual log of the statement and the proceedings. But would that be good enough?
Written text has greater power than audio or audio/visual when it comes to the literary arts. Listening to Stephen King's "The Shining" or watching Stanley Kubrick's movie are both enjoyable experiences and will make you shudder at the appropriate times. Reading "The Shining" is a different experience, one that takes you deeper into the growth of the father's madness and the terror of his son, in ways you cannot appreciate through the other media.
And would you suggest someone listen to an audio recording of "Leaves of Grass" as a good way to experience Walt Whitman? Certainly. Audio is a marvelous way to appreciate poetry. But would you suggest it as the ONLY way to experience "Leaves of Grass"? Absolutely not! When reading a poem, the reader understands connections between ideas, subtleties of expression, and shades of meaning that would be lost if only listening. The experience of reading brings thoughts and ideas to the surface that would be missed when only listening.
That's because the human mind can take time to linger a bit when reading. Rather than rushing from one word to the next, processing them and filing and composing an understanding, as one does when listening to something when reading, there's time to go back and review, re-evaluate, and appreciate anew.
Written text can be done on-the-spot. Directions to someone's house, a recipe, or a "gone fishing" note can all be composed with tools as primitive as a charred stick and a piece of birch bark. No other medium can create an ad-hoc, durable record as quickly and easily as written text.
Written text is a faster way to communicate. The average reader takes in 200-250 words per minute and will understand the message correctly. The average speaker has a pace of 175 words per minute. People can listen much faster, up to 450 words per minute, but understanding is very low at faster paces. Even at 175 words per minute, listeners comprehend less than readers.
SO WHAT CAN REPLACE IT?
In the technologically oriented nations of the world, written text has been somewhat supplanted by podcasts, audio books, audio/video presentations, and other forms of communication. But all of these rely on direct recording of language, and not on the symbolic approach used in writing.
The direct recording of language is fine for "first impression" evaluation of a message. And yes, direct recordings can be reviewed carefully . . . just look at the news analysis of a U.S. President's State of the Union Address. But guess what . . . the composition of these messages are all done in written text. For the most part, if it ISN'T in written text, it doesn't get to the public.
There is no other way to carefully compose a verbal statement. Anything the least bit complicated or important requires a prepared, written statement. A script is written before a movie is made. A book is written before an audio book is available, and then someone has to read it out loud.
Written text is the way other media productions are put together. Because nothing else will do.
DOWN COMES SOCIETY, CRADLE AND ALL
Written text, according to some individuals, is overrated. Some seem to think we are on the verge of a great revolution, where written words will be replaced by verbal recordings and audio/visual presentations.
But the works of law, science, literature and the work that goes into preparing the audio and visual presentations are all done in written text.
Without written text, we would be doomed. All precise communication would be done by verbal means alone leaving us in a technological stone age, where the old fashioned oral tradition would be ramped up and would be unable to keep pace with the world we know.
Disaster. Could you imagine a society where you had to leave a voice message not a post-it when you wanted to let your spouse know you were gone to the supermarket? How about a world where scientists had to review detailed data by telling it to each other?
Or a world where treaties existed only as electronic files of discussions and agreements in real time with no written record?
Debate and discussion would become nothing more than "he said-she said" arguments with endless review of audio/visual files. And the analysis would be on an audio/visual file. This would be horrific.
AN EXCUSE FOR LAZINESS
The main reason for anyone to predict the demise of written text is laziness. Some people don't want to be bothered with decoding all those written things and making sense of them. They want to be spoon-fed information in a way that caters to their limited abilities.
This is understandable for learning-disabled individuals, people with innate reading problems like dyslexia, and people with vision problems.
But when this idea comes from someone who has basic literacy skills and no mental or visual challenges, it's clearly an excuse for their own laziness. They are looking for a cultural trend to justify their unwillingness to read.
Damn shame that anyone would listen to someone like that.
CHANGES IN "WRITING"
Written text is changing as far as the mode we use to transmit it. Printed matter is considered a waste of resources now that it can be done electronically, rather than killing trees to make paper and print books. Electronic books are also cheaper to produce, and devices like e-readers are available to make electronic reading easier and more portable than ever.
But it is still written text. It may be electronic, but it is still formatted in the "writing" symbols, and transmitted as "text".
The handwritten note and the thank-you letter may have passed from favor, but email has replaced it. Again, it's a written medium, only the channel has changed.
Written text is the backbone of our society. Regardless of the discipline, there is no way to convey the detail, the precision, and the depth of any thought without a written record.
Other media can present information to those who do not wish to read, but the presentation will lack the speed, detail, and completeness that written text can convey.
Further, other media require that the message be created in written text. Even impromptu speeches get transcribed into you guessed it written text, for the web, newspapers, and public records.
In spite of the hoopla about expanding information sources and ways to transmit it, written text will always be the blueprint for their creation. Our world is built on it, there is nothing to replace it, and it will not go away.