Okay Google . . . What is writing?
According to Wikipedia writing is “a medium of human communication that represents language and emotion through the inscription or recording of signs and symbols.”
An interesting paradox. Writing is a medium. It is in and of itself “devoid of meaning” because it relies on a basic level of comprehension. Those individuals who encounter something that has been written must be able to read it. Obviously, literacy is requisite for the creation as well as the consumption of writing, but is it necessary to understand what has been written in able to label it as “writing?”
In its most archaic use, writing served as a method of cataloging. It was assumedly used to maintain records and track stocks of food and supplies (I’m thinking tally marks and little carved images on a stone tablet . . . ). On the other side of the spectrum, writings encountered today range from labels on clothing and bills, to intricately crafted novels and social media pages. Writing’s primary role is no longer functional, its role and even its appearance have instead, become amorphous.
The standard Facebook page contains heaps of writing: musings relating to an individuals likes and dislikes, perhaps their biography and family information, political views, and perhaps general personality traits. Something interesting to consider that is oftentimes overlooked in an age where oversharing has become the norm, is that the person who the Facebook page belongs to has free reign to post what they wish. While I peruse my various friend’s Facebook pages I can’t help but become a bit jealous at times when I see streams of photos taken on various vacations, posts regarding that highly-coveted internship won, or news about a recent engagement to America’s Next Top Model. These things are all well and good, but in truth are only a part of the whole story. People craft their Facebook pages. People typically don’t post things that shine a poor light on themselves because it yields no positive results. While I’m sure there are exceptions to this (i.e. natural disaster victims, charities, etc.), people are not only trying to depict themselves as “likable” in the social media realm but on resumes, and in emails, texts, letters . . .
It’s all rhetoric. It may seem cynical to suggest that every piece of writing today serves some rhetorical purpose, but I daresay that rhetoric is the very essence of writing. If writing is itself not rhetoric, it can be seen as the medium through which rhetoric is channeled. Consider the fact that virtually every piece of writing is taken at face-value and therefore is accompanied by some level of credibility. If I see a label on an item in the store with the respective item’s price, I’m inclined to believe that it is the correct price until proven otherwise. Just as well, if I’m reading a fantasy novel I’m probably invested in the fact that Harry really is a wizard. Even regarding oral communication there is a certain degree of craftsmanship. People do lie after all, and usually its for the same reasons they aren’t posting self-incriminating remarks on Facebook.
Most people can’t tell when they are being lied to, why would they be able to determine whether what they are seeing, or reading, or viewing has been written (that is to say, there is a degree of authorship directing its meaning) or whether its just plain data?
“I think I’ll take the shirt that’s been marked down–it was $199, but now it’s only $50, what a steal!”