/// Ed Castillo of TBWA Declares Writing as Dead

February 24, 2014  |  Blog

Talk NYC is continuing its new contributor series with Ed Castillo, Chief Strategy Officer at TBWA/Chiat/Day NY

Provocative title not withstanding—it is SXSW, after all—my talk is part empirical argument (are we reading less and less, or aren’t we?) and part almost-trivial observation (it is outrageous to believe that combinations of 26 letters and a few punctuation symbols can exhaustively represent all meaning-based modes of human experience and expression).

It’s not difficult to show instances where words on a page or a screen—two-dimensional representations of meaning, to be sure—will be disadvantaged when compared with non-syntactic images, sounds and gestures.

HOWEVER, my aim here is not to dismiss reading, but rather to suggest something far more positive: Yes, digital innovation continues to lessen our reliance on long-form reading—it simply isn’t the dominant form of communication and information transmission that it has been in centuries past.

But you know what? This isn’t a terrible thing. This is not the evidence of a civilization in decline that your 5th grade teacher would have you believe! We still enlighten ourselves, curiosities about the world still emerge and are still addressed meaningfully, and innovation still soldiers on (it is accelerating, actually).

Several corners of the educated, cultured world continue to lament emerging forms of communication because “nobody reads anymore” or “no one writes letters,” etc. And why is that? Why should the knowledge you glean from a typeset surface be privileged while my knowledge drawn from a conversation, or a video game, or an episode of Breaking Bad is denigrated?

I’m not trying to burn down the libraries; I simply wish to acknowledge that we now have more, often clearer, more memorable, more easily searched and accessed media that are preferred by growing segments of the population. We have simply entered a time when fewer and fewer people read for diversion (as is the case with playing chess or doing needlepoint or bird watching), and the clarity, memorability, searchability, and accessibility of these emerging media may have something to do with that fact.

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