A friend clipped the following article for me from last Sunday’s Washington Post (ah, clipped … how lovingly old school): iT was a dark stormy Nite . . . (TechNews.com @ Washpost) by Linton Weeks, a WashPost Staff Writer. The article is presumably about “Neterature: writing on and for the Internet,” where (as the subtitle states) “Online, Anyone Who Types Can Be a ‘Writer.’ In Theory, That Is.”

And I hate to be nasty (no I don’t), but I kept checking the date, because I would swear that this article, except for its references to blogging, was written in 1998. The article’s list of “Neterature’s” attributes?

  • Not always in complete sentences.
  • Often with bullets.
  • Not a lot of punctuation but a great deal of self-exploration you know
  • case often lower when should be upper and Vice Versa.
  • Rife with misteaks — easily corrected but mor often not.
  • Full of attitude and not always kind. Sometimes sinister and fraught with swear words. Othertimes saccharine and spangled with winking, smiley-face emoticons.

i maen isnt That jst Nsane you know?!?!?? 😉 😉 🙂 😮

Seriously. Even though the article references some popular blogs (such as William Gibson’s), the example quoted is by a 20-year-old GW student, described as:

a recent excerpt — errors and all — labeled “The State of Our Union Is Lousy”

I don’t object to focusing on the student’s blog, but it seems to be used precisely to support the article’s bullet points of what constitutes “Neterature.” Bad spelling, full of errors, someone mouthing off, and terribly unsophisticated. Sophomoric.

Which is, in terms of representation of the whole, one ink splatter on a large Pollock canvas.

Other representations of Neterature in the article, from e-poetics to fan fiction, all get the same type of crappy example. Here’s the fan fiction piece Weeks uses:

Here is a short story — bad punctuation and spelling included — based on the mindless computer game Minesweeper:

-The Tale of Joe – By Nazi Janitor One day, Joe Schmo, decided to quit his job of being a taco salesman. But, he had no idea what to be. Then he saw an ad in the paper: “DUDE BECOME A MINESWEEPER AND SWEEP MINES. NOTE: YOU MIGHT DIE BUT WHO CARES?!?!?!?!”.

“Hyuck hyuck hyuck, this is thuh kinda job I’m looking for, hyuck.” Joe said to himself.

Joe was hired. But sadly, he was killed buy a mine because he selected the wrong box. And because he was a smiley, his eyes turned into X’s and his face exploded because he sucks at life. The End.

Linton Weeks shows an amazingly sophisticated lack of knowledge about writing online. He could have talked about the technologies that allow bloggers to create social networks, report on wars (did he miss the whole warblogging thing?), and hold discussions on special topics. Or, perhaps, he could have spoken to the increased complexity of interactive fiction and organizations that feature IF, like the ELO, Rhizome, or trAce. Instead of looking at Astonia, perhaps he might have thought to discuss Everquest and its subscribers that number in the hundreds-of-thousands?

The article concludes with the type of fear-driven hype that was, again, typical in 1998.

So even if we want to read — or write — more textured, complex prose, we may not be able to. The result is slapdash, small-vocab, shallow, callow writing that seems to be devolving with the technology rather than evolving.

Beware folks – technologies of writing will cause you to write shorter, shallow prose. We’re doomed. Oh no.


On one side of the equation, today’s engineers have made it eerily easy for writers to write — certainly more rapidly and, some would say, more creatively and innovatively.

On the other, maybe the easier we make it to write, the worse some of the writing gets.

I didn’t realize that engineers had also made it easier to get unsophisticated, ignorant articles published on the front page of Sunday’s Style section. I guess at the Washington Post “Anyone Who Types Can Be a ‘Writer.’ In Theory, That Is.”


2 Responses to “Online, Anyone Who Types Can Be a ‘Writer.’ In Theory, That Is.”

  1. dave says:

    Clearly, something’s contageous at the Post lately. Jonathan Weisman (Post staff writer) and Brad Delong (blogging Berkeley econ professor) are having a go at it as a result of some things Delong said in one of those reckless blogs.

    Also see Salon’s “The Fix” from 4 Feb wherein the dangerous anonymity of the blogging world (esp. Atrios, et al) is condemned. Maybe we can just get some barcodes on everybody’s forehead.

  2. Brandon says:

    Right on, Jason. You’d think professional writers would pay closer attention to the effects of writing technologies. I often think their coverage is skewed by their fear of anything different from what they do.

    Anyone who IMs or SMSes should rightly laugh at this article. So out of touch.

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