The Modern Translation of Writing

In our current digital age, we often think of the concept of writing as existing in black and white. We think: print vs. digital. But in actuality, we need to think of things more broadly because communication has always laid its seeds in and grown its roots from the grey area.

If we look at society from an economical standpoint, we can see that people are changing their businesses to reflect an interlocked system of management in hopes of avoiding the stigma of a “top-down” hierarchy. Unfortunately, the case remains unsolved. Micromanagement is still a daily conflict that team leaders must face because their employees do not want to trust each other how to do their jobs. When we remove the clear barriers between levels of work culture, suddenly it becomes unknown how another’s duties will affect our own ability to perform.

So what is the solution? On the surface, it seems impossible to remove difficult people from work culture altogether, because we know there will always be someone with an opinion they hold in a higher regard than yours. And beyond the workplace, we know that difficult people are going to be encountered much more frequently.

I am confident that by refining what we mean when we say difficult people by looking at how we use language, we will also discover the paths of communications we need to take in order to be successful. Ultimately, language evolves communication and vice versa, with confusion arising as a result of it. In other words, we are not difficult people and we do not deal with difficult people. There is something else going on, and through investigating our modern communicative tools, we can see what exactly that is.

Lost in Translation
Language and communication simultaneously evolve over time to create something new.

1. Live Chat or Instant Message

The Purpose: To mimic in-person conversation by sending a message to the receiver right away

The Advantage: Reach a person immediately

The Challenge: Not as immediate as it seems because the incentive is also to be responded to ASAP

2. Posted Messages

The Purpose: To address another piece of writing directly, either online on someone else’s post (photo, link, article, etc.) or in print in a similar fashion (such as community boards)

The Advantage: Organizes the audience response

The Challenge: Not always posted with the highest accuracy of organization because the person who puts up the post cannot judge the way it is read by others

3. Text Messages

The Purpose: To be able to reach someone anywhere with the expectation they take their cell phone everywhere

The Advantage: Can get ahold of someone directly in hopes of an immediate response

The Challenge: Not necessarily immediate and more easily misinterpreted than instant chat messages

4. Phone Calls (Voicemail, Cell, Home, Work)

The Purpose: To talk to someone right away in order to avoid misinterpretations of text

The Advantage: Offers tone of voice and direct contact

The Challenge: Cannot expect the other person to be able to take your call when you are able to make it and various phone numbers/locations to reach a person

5. Email

The Purpose: To reach someone directly without the expectation they will respond right away

The Advantage: Take time to draft an organized message without waiting days/weeks like regular mail

The Challenge: Receiver can easily ignore

6. Posted Mail (Snail Mail)

The Purpose: To give a paper copy message or ship an item to someone

The Advantage: Allows for a physical copy of the message

The Challenge: Takes the longest to send your message

7. In-Person Conversation

The Purpose: To talk directly to a person

The Advantage: You gain access to all forms of communication (voice, language, body)

The Challenge: The interference of your surroundings. No channel is perfect.

8. The Fax Machine

The Purpose: To send a paper copy message to another organization directly

The Advantage: Faster than direct mail and allows you to send documents that are not already digital

The Challenge: Replaced these days most often by scanning and emailing

Language Texts

Refining the Path: 8 Steps to Solutions

From each of these 8 forms of communication, their purposes, advantages and challenges, the grey area discussed earlier becomes clear. The grey area here accounts for the changes in accessibility, not format. Print and digital will always have their values independent of each other, their own purposes, advantages and challenges. It is likely we will not see either of them disappear anytime soon.

We see from the obsolete form of communication through the example of the fax machine vs. the scanner and email that ease of access is our number one priority in the modern world. If one is already using their email as a primary means of communication in tandem with a work phoneline, a fax machine only adds another element instead of simplifying things. Although simple, by looking toward that kind of solution we can gauge what channel is best for the information we wish to communication.

The question therefore remains: Who are we trying to reach, and what is the best way to reach them? It seems like a simple question to ask from an audience perspective when you are trying to sell a larger idea, but it must be taken into account for each message we deliver.

In an ideal world, with everyone successfully discovering the best ways in which to channel our messages, we would have much less room to make excuses like, “I’m sorry, my system must have deleted it,” or, “There must be some sort of glitch.” Instead of blaming our issues on the soaring innovations of technology, we will have to start taking responsibility ourselves because we know better.

Messages Are More Than Writing

The translation of writing in the modern world, then, is not from one language to another—as we encounter this much more regularly now in our daily routines than ever before in history—but from one channel to another, changing the message as it needs to be fitted for its new platform. But we should also be aware and keep in mind that in the modern world, the translation of writing and messages is not just through text, and text no longer just means words. We also need to consider other things, like images as messages, video games as texts, and vice versa for both examples. Although keeping it simple for now is helpful, there is always more to discover when we think outside the box.

What do you think? Leave a comment.

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  1. The real debate now is not paper vs digital reading, but reading vs surfing you tube, playing Tetris, browsing flickr or all the other things one can do with a tablet computer/ mobile phone. Reading requires concentration and it’s difficult to do with all these highly entertaining distractions on hand.

    • This is a great point KiMbRa! I really like how you’re digging deeper in the article here. I wonder if this could turn into a new post?

      • Ryan Errington

        It would be an interesting concept for an article, investigating if our visual media overwhelms any chance of detailed, written media.

  2. Arden Mullin

    I don’t think books will ever entirely go away, no matter how good the technology gets.

  3. DClarke

    Very interesting. I think that it is an important message to keep in mind that communication can be more than just a letter and the way we send messages is just as relevant.

  4. There is a value to paper print, but there is no denying the convenience and speed of digital communication. Much like with other forms of technology, such as cars, it may never be absolute, but it is certainly taking over the majority to the world. Don’t know yet whether that’s a good thing, but progress is progress!

  5. YsabelGo

    Interesting to see the different ways we communicate. We’re all aware of it, but we don’t take the time to really analyze how we do it. Great job!

  6. This was a good article about communication and the points brought across were interesting (in a good way). There really is a lot more to communication than we think.

  7. School’s inability to keep up with the times was one of the reasons I quit being an English teacher.

  8. WKBrooks

    Thanks for the article. I’m in the middle of investigating oral tradition with my students as it pertains to 1001 Arabian Nights. To give them some perspective, I ask them if they could send a message to 100 people from their seats in one minute or less. Of course they tell me that it would be easy with Twitter or Instagram. What strikes me after reading your article is that not only has the ease and speed of interaction increased, but that the message contained within my students’ prospective tweets are shared without a change in the message. Flash back to times of oral tradition, and the best way to reach 100 people with a message was to gather a group together or relay the same message on through other people, at every interchange risking a change in the message.

    • When you state, “without a change in the message,” does this exclude misinterpretations of the author’s original intent?

      I see where written texts (like a tweet) can prevent the “purple monkey dishwasher” outcome, but what one person interprets from the original message could differ entirely from another’s interpretation. This happens in all forms of communication.

      • WKBrooks

        Eclipse, absolutely. I meant that the text within a Tweet, for example, is not altered from the outset of the posting. The comparison I was trying to make was that a Tweet stands a much better chance of conveying the literal text of the message with more fidelity than would a spoken message in which case the receiver may mistake the words being shared before the message is handed over to interpretation. After the point of transmission, in either case, of course the message is up for interpretation.

  9. Jeffery Moser

    When words are carried across the so-called language barrier, subtle differences in meaning can be lost in translation. That is, the translation omits information that helps to clarify the meaning of the original. Instead of “lost in translation” this article suggest that the process of scribal transmission is made more complex by the mode or technology used. Perhaps all things written and transmitted by any means are in essence “translation”, and even “translation writ large.”

  10. Few things beat the power of physical presence, probably why old fashioned letters are still around —and why presence, the feeling of someone standing next or relatively close to you, is precisely the feeling on its readers sought by writers everywhere pretty much everywhere. Important stuff, because it’s so part of the daily existence that makes up the whole of it.

  11. I still like having physical books, I guess I crave the touch and smell of them.

  12. A printed book remains easier to study from than a digital version, for reasons both obvious and subtle.

  13. I was at my local bookshop last Saturday to buy Adichie’s latest: Americana: I didn’t because the print is horrendously small; on the Kindle, small print is not a problem- its size can be increased.

  14. Mariano

    Things change. I love well crafted items of any material. But as a regular traveller, I can take a whole library of books with me and buy more en route.

  15. I love paper books, but the vast majority of my reading will forevermore be electronic.

  16. I agree immensely that our culture has split the print and digital into two different platforms, but I don’t think this hinders our understanding as much as it seeks to break down a hierarchal structure that has evolved from the way information and communication has superseded each new form. Also, I see the potential similarities between the business hierarchal structures, but I don’t think it quite correlates with the forms of communication in the way you suggest. I do see however how it might connect more in the way we advertise and how that interacts with communication. There’s just more close similarities. I think you’ve put forth an interesting critique and demonstration of the levels and purposes of communication without having to go into specific detail and history. Although a history context might have helped the explanations, since each form of communication DID evolve from each other and out of necessity for new forms.

  17. Another factor to consider is the cognitive effort put into any form of writing. Can a tweet or text help develop literacy and critical thinking? I don’t think so, but some may suggest that because a person is writing more, they’re therefore improving their language skills. Something more involved like a full letter or email may then have more cognitive value.

  18. I think Twitter is an especially interesting platform to examine in relation to this article. The very premise of Twitter means that communication on the site is stunted to 140 characters or less. And yet, Twitter is the tool of choice for writers—who should be some of the most eloquent and communicative people among us—to share their work. Twitter can open up conversations with colleagues and the online community that might otherwise never have been possible. Although it is ironic that wordsmiths are turning to a notoriously language-limiting platform to communicate, it seems to be a natural result of humans’ desire to communicate with a broader swathe of people while preserving a sense of artistry.

  19. I’m quite shallow when it comes to buying books, I always judge by it’s cover and how it will look on my shelf. If I think it’s ugly I opt for the ebook, so I can still read it but don’t have to look at it. The result is a row of bookcases in my living room filled with the most beautiful examples literature and art. Perhaps this is the ultimate future of physical books? To be frantically sought out and collected by the hardcore and shown off to people as if they care as much about it as you do. Much like vinyl records.

  20. washo

    I really enjoyed reading this. I’ve found that most issues with writing is exactly what you’re pointing out- how we write, and not what we write. It’s said that we communicate a lot more with non-verbal cues and our body language than with our words. So what does it mean if we send urgent messages by email or phone, or lengthy messages through texting? So many gray areas with the rise of new technologies.

  21. Very insightful in regards to how information is passed from sender to receiver, with particular attention to how it is received (IM, email vs. post and fax). It might be worth mentioning that a paradox has been stitched into the fabric of speedier forms of communication; that is, as it has become easier to send information at instantaneous (or near-instantaneous) speeds, there has been an increase in time delays from when the first message was sent and how soon a response is received by the initial sender (there was a compelling article written in Psychology Today about this phenomenon).
    The proposed solutions to communication that you have outlined are a great starting point for elucidation in the “grey areas” of each mode of communication and I would love to see those expressed in greater detail.

  22. Very insightful and informative!

  23. Qiao ChengHua

    One of the most difficult things I find with communication is which one is appropriate and at what times? For example, sending a short text to a parent or family member to ask about the upcoming holiday is alright, but what about asking teachers about an assignment? Most of the time, an email is preferred. At work, it actually seems best to submit a physical copy of something important, like a notice in availability or the need for a day off. In this case, text messages AND emails are easily lost or ignored. But when inquiring about the week’s schedule, a phone call is often most efficient.

  24. Interesting. I was expecting something on language barrier but you revealed a more common denominator is the emotional barrier and facing the channel with which to communicate it, right? Thanks for sharing.

  25. LauraJonson

    There is a trend to say that young people has become less educated and intelligence that they used to be. But I think it’s a mistaken opinion because modern youth has much more skills that previous generation. Each child can use a computer. Every second teenager knows has programming skill. We live in digital world. So, communication has become digital too. Maybe it will be better. But time will tell.

  26. Something to think about is how the anticipation of a quick response from a text or an instant message affects the way people have become used to the fast back and forth of modern day. No longer is it okay to take a few hours to respond or even a few days because the texts and emails will keep coming and it has become almost a requirement that when someone sends a text, you must respond within the next minute or so. This might be one of the causes for the decline in writing skills as people text as fast as humanly possible, not caring about typos or incorrect grammar.

  27. Digital means the end of hardcopy books. It means the end of bookshops and the end of libraries.

    This cultural disaster is happening. And appeasers only benefit the case for the e-reader.

    In the future there will be no profit to be had for publishing houses in producing hardcopy books. Therefore they will stop.

  28. There’s been a lot of talk of in print books vs. reading text on a screen, and I have to say – Although I know we must adapt to it, I find it harder to read for a long time with a screen. The only times I’ve read hundreds of pages in one sitting has been with a paperback, not scrolling forever on a device!

  29. Writing used to be restricted, but now it has expanded into so many different mediums, and I believe that is progress. Communication methods have always evolved from paintings on cave walls to hieroglyphics to paper scrolls to books. This is just a moment in time where new methods of communication have been introduced and utilized by the public. I don’t think the new methods are damaging; however, it will change the way people interact with each other as it should because that’s how communities advance.

  30. Digital or physical, writing is something that can be beautifully cultivated, even in a time when society is beginning to fall to the more preferential side of all things digital.

  31. One thing that I feel like is really key, but missing from your article, is that access is not a universal concept that applies equally to all individuals. What about the ways in which disability plays into this conversation, for example? There are many ways that people cannot equally participate in these things. There are folks with visual impairments, hearing impairments, speech impairments… all at varying levels. I think that your article begins to skim the surface of a very, very deep topic, and I hope to see you dig into it a bit more!

    • Marcie Waters

      I agree that looking at how people with disabilities factors into this could be very interesting. Not only do they use mainstream communication forms differently, but there are also communication forms made specifically for them, like Braille or subtitles specifically for deaf movie viewers.

  32. The way we socialize now and 50 years ago is night and day different. The Modern Translation of Writing is having a huge impact on the way we communicate with eachother. The article mentions the grey areas in all the different communication techniques. However, in my opinion there is absolutely no debate that the original face to face conversation trumps the rest. The grey area for this would be you are able to continue texting the person once you depart from eachother’s company. It not only ruins relationships but creates fake ones.

  33. M. L. Flood

    Wonderful! You make such good points about communicating and language. It’s so interesting to see how our forms of communication are evolving. The digital age has completely reworked our original thoughts on how to communicate with each other. Before, everyone knew how to write a proper letter and use good handwriting, now hardly anyone does. Thinking back to the 90’s, when pagers were a form of communication if a boss wanted to reach his or her employee, now pagers are almost obsolete! Better and faster forms of technology have risen to replace them. If we consider what may happen in the next fifteen or twenty years with the advances of technology continuing as they are, the possibilities are limitless. The forms of communication we have today (i.e. text messages, e-mails, phone calls) could also become outdated. Who knows? Furthermore, the applications these advances have to writing are astounding! Stories no longer have to be physical books but digital files; they are lighter and easier to carry. They don’t even have to be read in linear order anymore. I’ve been experimenting with IF (interactive fiction) and it can make for such a unique reading (and writing) experience as it relies so heavily on hyperlinks and a digital format. But this form of storytelling didn’t exist (I believe) before the 70’s. The same goes for spoken-word poetry; when before poetry was limited to books, now it can be visual and oral, too. This adds for such depth in the creative experience. And that’s what it’s all about, being creative!

  34. I agree that the different ways in which people communicate through “text” today all have different benefits and challenges and the “translation” between all of these medium may occur more often than translating between different languages. This is especially interesting as, depending on the vehicle through which the communication is delivered, it seems to add another dimension to the overall communication and how something could be “read”. There are so many different ways to communicate in many societies today, that choosing which means is most effective can be a challenge in and of itself. Also, I found it interesting the point you mentioned in your first writing section, that communication and language are always affecting and shaping one another (in both directions). If this is the case, I wonder how these different media types and styles today are affecting current communications and the accessibility to communicate/access these communications.

  35. Evan Webster Wiley

    A bold and positive point. Looking at the big picture is extremely important, especially in regards to media being such a huge part of our lives. I also appreciate that you incorporate other forms of communicative mediums. Well written.

  36. We are always constantly evolving as not only humans, but Technology is constantly evolving with us. I think that the examples use in this article, are great reminders. Thank You for this read, Great Work!

  37. Emily Deibler

    Excellent article. I’m intrigued by the different ways narratives can evolve and reach various audiences when creators can wield many available forms of media. I’m also excited to see how stories can become more accessible. Good work.

  38. Thank you for this post

  39. Really interesting!

  40. Munjeera

    Teaching writing has also been affected by the points you have made. Effective teachers incorporate multi-media into their lessons and these tools are especially useful for true literacy students who are not literate in their first language. Even at the higher levels, the quality of writing is much better when people keep up with the times. One reason I loved teaching writing so much was because of how much I learned from the high school students I taught. Plus the topics when they chose their own were so interesting.

  41. Nothing can be more valuable than this. Teaching is always a great profession and the best parts come out when you enjoying it.

  42. Marina

    I feel like since media has become such an intricate part of everyone’s individual lives, hand-written forms of communication are now considered a ‘thing of the past.’ This is bothersome to someone like myself, an undergraduate English major, a student that greatly enjoys all forms of writing. I can agree that I am one that uses technology every single day, but it saddens me to think that generations younger than myself will always rely on technology. Writing is such an exciting thing to do, especially when you are given the opportunity to do it on whatever you like. With everything that technology is capable of, I hope and pray that reading and writing in educational facilities will not suffer because of it.

  43. You write:

    “The translation of writing in the modern world, then, is not from one language to another—as we encounter this much more regularly now in our daily routines than ever before in history—but from one channel to another, changing the message as it needs to be fitted for its new platform.”

    I’m interested to know how you think “one language to another” is different from “one channel to another”. How are languages NOT channels? How ARE they channels? How does “translation” between any two points (being language, channels, or something else) square with your thoughts on the “Purpose/Advantage/Challenge” of “translation” itself as a medium?

  44. Digital media has become the norm. Print is slowly dying, but it is still alive and striving! As an incoming English major, I have realized that writing is so much more than just “writing,” as stated. Writing is an important form of communication and an expression of one’s individual style. Advancement in technology is always changing and evolving; with that comes more popularity towards digital media. As humans, we need to communicate. Nobody wants to be left alone.

  45. I love it when writers play with different forms of communication as a mode of telling a story. I think that in the future we will see more writing that plays off of less traditional modes of communication. We are already seeing entire books being published in text formats and previously some books have done this through letters.

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