Social Science - Other

Written Text is not Obsolete – Yes



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Some claim that written communication (text) will be completely phased out in the not too distant future. However, an examination of history suggests this is unlikely to happen.

Changes since the Industrial Revolution offer concrete examples. When the locomotive was invented in the 1830s it was called the "Iron Horse". This colorful term was in deference to the thousands of years during which horses enjoyed a monopoly as the preferred transportation medium on land.

It was widely believed trains would make horses useless. While it's certainly true they largely replaced horses for both personal and mass transit, our hoofed friends are still in wide use today for recreation, for work in rugged areas, and throughout the world on farms and ranches. They are also still used for agricultural work and transportation in many parts of the world where mechanized alternatives are available, such as China and India.

Another example is of sailing ships. After the steam engine came into wide use in the 1860s, folks were writing off sailing ships as dinosaurs. Just as with the trains and cars, however, we saw a shift in application but nothing close to obsolescence for wind-powered watercraft. Their nostalgia and recreation value as well as their environmentally friendly zero-emission platform suggests they have a healthy future.

The third and final example is that of paper itself. The teaching in the 1980s was the coming of the "paperless office". Everything was to be computer based with electronic text, and waste-free business environments. This has not happened. And in fact paper use continues at a high level in the modern white-collar workplace, despite lots of computer usage. Hundreds of millions of books continue to be printed each year.

Amazon recently rolled out the "Kindle" e-book reader and to date about 300,000 units have sold. There are always people who quickly embrace change as this statistic testifies; while the mainstream technology modifies at a slower rate.

However, the evidence over the past 30 years shows that the cessation of book printing is unlikely. It is equally unlikely horses will disappear from work and pleasure, or that sailing ships will all be scuttled for internal combustion and electric-powered craft.

Some may argue that just as 8-tracks were replaced by the technically superior cassette, only to be trumped by CD and MP3 players, that written words will be replaced by computer-generated products eventually. However, this would be a false comparison. Eight tracks were inferior in quality, convenience and durability to cassettes, and so they died away.

The written word is a different and more personal form of expression than the typed ones you read now. While the computerized text offers uniformity, there will always be a need and indeed advantage at times with personal expression.

So the written word will likely continue to decrease in usage , but this is not the same as proclaiming it to be pass. Just as the sailing ship, the horse, and the book, written text usage will ebb and flow, but history suggests it's unlikely to become a lost art.

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