A week or so ago, on Twitter, Virginia Heffernan introduced me to the word “hyperlexic” in the context of her piece on the speed-reading app Spritz (which Bogost has addressed here). She talked about the way we generally valorize certain kinds of reading, like novels, and dismiss others, like texts or Facebook.
However one assigns value, there’s no question we are a hyperlexic society. More people are reading more words than has ever happened in human history, and that’s interesting.
The flip side of hyperlexic is hyperscribal (or hyperscriptoral to use the analogous Latin form to “lex,” I think).
We’re all writing. I don’t even mean the kinds of performative writing on blogs and beyond, but that we have become a society that communicates via the written word. It started with letter writing, email spurring a rebirth of epistolary arts, but now extends throughout society, from the flip OMW to the urgent TORNADO WARNING on our ubiquitous devices
I grew up in Nashville, moving there when I was 10. It’s an interesting town for a lot of reasons, but one of them is that it’s filled with poets. Throughout the city, the people you meet seem “normal,” but late at night they are sitting in their apartments and houses, holding guitars, trying to find rhymes and rhythms to talk about love, loss, substance abuse, desire, and identity (Thank God I’m A Country Boy). Throughout the city, you find people embedded in careers across class lines, though concentrated in service industries, who are writing songs, performing when they can find the courage, looking for that break.
You might say this of New York and L.A. too, but those are giant metropolises in a way that Nashville is not. In “The Thing Called Love,” a 1993 Boganovich film about Nashville, there’s a moment in which Trisha Yearwood is in a police station, and the police officer (played by Fred Thompson) is singing at her trying to pitch a song to her as she’s going in to fill out her paperwork.. It’s totally realistic.
Poetry and music, much of it cliched and commercial to be sure, infuses the city and changes its culture.
I offer this anecdote about Nashville not because I’m a booster – I haven’t been back since I was 21 or so – or to boost my country music career (I play driving Tennessee Irish music though in my two bands: The Tooles and Mulligan Stew). For me, thinking about Nashville helps me process what I see going on in society.
We’re all writing. We’re all trying to communicate important things via written word over spoken word. sure, a lot of it is “bad” writing, it’s cliched, it’s unexamined, it’s “Do you like me, check yes or no?” But it’s writing and its ubiquitous. That has to have an impact on society. Maybe, like Bogost suggests, reading is already dead. Maybe, like Heffernan offers, reading is reading is reading.
Here’s what I know – As a teacher, I’m going to skew optimistic and try to level the hyperscribal and hyperlexic elements of society to improve learning, to whatever extent possible.
As a teacher, I constantly think about how to leverage our students “natural” social media use, their natural writing, their natural forms of communication – and I use nature in the context of things they are likely to do without being instructed to do so by the teacher.
Here, for example, is an essay on using Facebook in the Classroom. I expect it to work for about another 3 years, tops. If I taught art history, you bet I’ve have an instagram account and try to get students to follow it. I giggle about snapchat (folks, your lecture notes will be on for the next 5 minutes), but surely a more creative teacher than I has figured out a way to leverage its temporary nature to try and enhance learning. Twitter is a natural tool for forming pathways of communication in a large class (here’s a piece by my grad advisor and some students on its use in a World History class).
All of this is to say that if students are reading more and writing more, we can “Go where they are,” my motto, and try to move them to where they want to be. We don’t have to say that all writing and all reading is good writing and reading. But it is, if you’ll excuse the tautology, writing and reading. And it’s new.
I have more say on this topic, especially about the way that medievalists and early modernists, people straddling the emergence of print culture in the West, can help us understand what’s going on in our society and what these changes might mean for the future of reading and writing.
But having written 800 words before breakfast, I need to go make some food then get to work on my “real” writing. I’m “writing” a “talk” on narratives about objects across the Medieval-Renaissance divide in Venice.
Being hyperscribal is hard on the carpals but good for the brain.
2 Replies to “Hyperscribal Society”
Because this feels like some sort of evolutionary step in human communication, I've been wondering if there are parallels in history, like the emergence of print for the masses. When I was a kid, I was chided for always having a book in hand — told to go outside and play—- even though I grew up in a family that valued education and literacy. Now, I read more in a day than I probably did in a week, just a few years ago. Information overload, indeed. How might this be changing fundamental brain structure, as well as culture?
I have no idea about the neuroscience of it all, but I agree that it's really interesting!