What broader developments in the world-at-large might require something new in the writing of sentences? Is it enough to simply innovate with the content of our communication? A structure/content dichotomy can be borrowed from Neuro Linguistics Programming. All NLP practitioners (sales-professionals, therapists, hypnotists) recognize that the structure of communication can oftentimes be far more impactful than its content.
In art and literature, structure can be loosely-interpreted as ‘technique’. It can be argued that the brush techniques of oil painting, the fast-cutting techniques of Television, the networking techniques of Twitter and the punctuation techniques which emerged soon after Gutenberg’s printing press, were all predestined by the inherent physics of each medium.
The medium (the physical components) and the techniques used upon those components both serve to express the content. This raises the question of whether the content or the medium will have the greater influence on the audience. Exponential increases in the complexity of mediums, dictated by microprocessor technology and roughly approximated by Moore’s Law, have led to the domination of medium over content. This may have first begun with the invention of the microprocessor and the subsequent rise of television viewership in the 1960s. At this time, this television phenomenon helped to popularize the marketing mantra The Medium is the Message. In the decades that followed, it’s become increasingly apparent that the influence of a chosen, technological medium—and its technological techniques—can outweigh the influence of its content.
This influence of the medium over its content is very subtle in the case of literature and writing. Printed and e-ink materials represent reflected light mediums. Internet reading materials are emerging in a contrasting way as emitted light mediums. If you’re reading from a printed book or Kindle, chances are, you’re comfortably in bed, on a couch or at a pool. The natural light of the environment is being reflected off the material and into your eyes. If you’re reading internet material, you’re likely sitting in an uncomfortable task chair, wearing uncomfortable clothes, fearing your boss (who’s, no-doubt, lurking around the corner) while light is emitting from your screen into your eyes and attacking your central nervous system at approximately sixty cycles-per-second.
But internet reading is affordable, easily transmitted and globally pervasive. It’s here to stay. We must seek to understand the physics of internet reading in order to understand how best to write for this medium. The previously mentioned aggravations, limitations and pressures placed on these readers have led many search engine optimization experts to conclude that audiences are looking for a practical experience. Internet readers know that their reading experience is physically taxing, so the rewards must be guaranteed—and guaranteed on a moment-to-moment basis. It can be further conjectured that since the rapidly-cycling, emitted light of the screen excites the central nervous system in a manner not completely unlike staring at the Sun, that the participant seeks a correspondingly stimulating experience: something assuring laughter, something with useful information, something with insight. In contrast, the more relaxed mediums of e-ink and print seem to sooth the central nervous system. This relaxation may provide a more conducive environment for the emergent phenomena of imagination, emotion and contemplation.
Literature and prose are in a transitional state of awakening. Authors are realizing that, when they write for the internet, perhaps they are not writing content to be transferred to typeset, inked and pressed into some paper. They are writing for new, electronic mediums that have new technological, physiological and, yes, sociological demands.
An inferior artist seeks to put his mark on a medium. True artists seek to discover or fulfill a medium. In the same way Stephen King has famously written in his memoir On Writing that he sees himself as an archeologist, digging carefully to excavate the content of a story, so too authors must seek to carefully excavate the preexisting structure of a new medium. Evidence of this transition to an internet style of writing can be found by reading the postings of users from Twitter, blogging platforms and website search descriptions. If the dictum of Modernism was: Make it New. And, if the Post-Modernists had: Make it Weird. Perhaps the internet writing dictum can be: Make it Exciting.
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