The Internet’s Effect on Writing and Publishing

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Hello, grammar fiends! Long time, no talk. It’s been a crazy summer filled with vacations and work and editing and all sorts of things that equal me being absent from this place for many months. I’m hoping to get back into the swing of regular posting, and I appreciate you all sticking with me!

A few weeks ago, I read the book The Shallows: What the Internet is Doing to Our Brains by Nicholas Carr. Anyone else read that one? It touched on many topics that I, as an editor and general reader of things, found chilling and fascinating all at once. One of the things Carr discussed in the book is how our use of the internet and in general the technology of computers has changed the way we view our words. Here’s what he says:

“The provisional nature of digital text promises to influence writing styles. A printed book is a finished object. The finality of the act of publishing has long instilled in the best and most conscientious writers and editors a desire, even an anxiety, to perfect the works they produce… Electronic text is impermanent. In the digital marketplace, revision can go on indefinitely.” (p. 107)
And then there’s this:

“Our indulgence in the pleasures of informality and immediacy has led to a narrowing of expressiveness and a loss of eloquence.” (p. 108)

Agree or disagree? I think you’d have to be crazy not to agree with his sentiment that we’re losing our eloquence and care for the written word with the advance of texting, instant messages, and online self-publishing. That includes blogging too, because anyone can have a blog, and some are quite terrible. We don’t feel the need to take the care to edit and revise before we hit “publish” because we know that we can always go back and revise our work. But is that to the detriment of our “expressiveness and eloquence,” as Carr states?

I think so, at least a little bit.

I came across someone recently who self-publishd a book on Amazon. She told me that she didn’t even get an editor to read it over before she put it online, because she could just take it down and upload it again if she found errors that needed changing. On one hand, it’s great that we do have the technology available to fix those pesky errors we always find after we publish something. But on the other hand, this is making us lazy! It’s making us care less about getting it right the first time. It’s making us not see editing as an important part of the publishing process.

Carr does not really offer a solution to this problem. Ultimately, I think it’s up to us to change. We need to be aware of the tendency to hit “publish” too fast when maybe it needs up one more read-through. We need to use our words wisely and not just rely on the “edit” button to fix what we should have gotten right the first time.

What do you think? Do you agree that our technology is negatively impacting publishing? Do we not take enough care with our words the first time because of the ability to edit them later?

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6 thoughts on “The Internet’s Effect on Writing and Publishing

  1. I fully agree that ability to just go back and edit makes its so tempting to just get it out there with out making revisions.. I thinks it’s an extension of the way life has changed in modern society where people’s attention spans have shortened to virtually nothing. Do people have the time to listen to the old mans story that takes a long time to tell but which is worth more than gold.

  2. I agree for the most part, Amanda. We writers tend to be tinkerers; I know I am. On my blogs or on sites I contribute to, I’ll go back and reread an old post and feel that almost uncontrollable need to tinker with it some more. With hardcopy books and magazine articles, we can’t do that, of course, even though we probably would like to.

    But I’m not sure that makes what we publish electronically any less expressive or eloquent, unless we’re just sloppy writers. It’s a different medium with different expectations. And I think that’s a good thing, because it allows us as writers to have another way to express ourselves. Yes, I usually hit “publish” a lot sooner on the Internet, but I’m also putting more content out there, including this comment on this discussion. For the record, I did two passes of tinkering on this, and added “two” and this phrase after the second pass!

    • I think maybe that’s it: people are becoming sloppy writers. Not everyone, of course, but a lot of people. I mean, why is it okay to have a disclaimer at the bottom of our emails now that says, “Please excuse any errors due to my smart phone”? That’s just not very professional, in my opinion. I understand why, but I still think we could take more care with our words, and this book gave me some things to think about in that regard.

  3. Problem with editing a book after it’s already published is that the negative reviews criticizing the poor editing will stay, even after the errors are fixed. No sense damaging your ranking and your reputation by taking shortcuts.

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