There are plenty of reasons for the apparent decline of the written word in business but no real excuses for it. Just look around and consider the state of our broader social culture. Twitter is a headline service. What else can you call a “micro-blog” that calls for no more than 140 characters per post? Social media isn’t helping, either. Yes, forced brevity compels crisp clarity but the problem is the short-cuts that have been trampled across the garden of language: “OMG! I will call u 2 c if U R coming Ovr, k?” Texting has given us letters and numerals 4 use as words and encourages kids to hack whole new forms of expression.
Website visitors have ever-shorter attention spans and ever-diminishing time to spend it scrolling long-form content. Pinterest, where you can say it all with photos, is the new new thing in platforms. When was the last time you sat down and wrote a real letter on real paper to a family member, friend, senator, or editor? Email doesn’t count. But it’s probably as good a scapegoat as any for greasing the skids under the carriage of well-crafted, precise expression of ideas. The reasons are many and they’ve been dissected and de-constructed at length elsewhere.
Still, we’re inclined toward optimism. Don’t short-sell our business culture yet. Ipads, Kindles and e-readers of all stripe encourage more consumption of more content, including novels, biographies and histories. Just not on company time. Walter Isaacson had a monster best-seller last year in the Steve Jobs biography. Let’s hope everybody reads all 600-plus words. Historian Robert Caro just published another marathon read in his multi-volume biography of Lyndon Johnson and at last glance it was ascending on best-seller lists. As far as marketing is concerned, we creators of content must take our stewardship of the language much more seriously than we take ourselves. After all, if the devil’s always in the details then the need to read the fine print now takes on a whole new significance. An editors will always outnumber writers.