Tuesday, April 18, 2006

The Tools That Complicate Our Lives

Once upon a time all a writer had to do is write. Rudimentary typing skills and the ability to change a worn-out ribbon covered all the technological know-how a writer needed.

Technological advancements--from FAX machines to personal computers to the Internet--have changed how we write, how we research, and how we maintain communication with editors and clients. While technology has opened up new markets for many writers, it also acts to filter out others.

Opportunities for writers who can only write seem to be disappearing, while opportinities for writers with other skills seem to be growing. For example, I spent the better part of today creating a poster for a trade show. I wrote it. I designed it. I set the type for it. I proofread it. And I prepared the electronic file for the printer.

Thirty years ago, that poster would have been touched by half a dozen artists and craftsmen--a writer, a designer, a typesetter, a paste-up artist, a proofreader, a camerman, a stripper, and so on.

While it is still possible to be just a writer--and there may always be opportunities for highly skilled wordsmiths and literary geniuses--I suspect it won't be much longer before average writers will be unable to support themselves without having additional skills.

So what happens to the over-all quality of writing during this transition? Do our writing skills diminish because we're having to juggle multiple non-writing responsibilities on the same projects? Or does it improve as we master new technologies and learn to use them to our advantage?

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