I have a theory. My theory is that the web is making us more literate – better readers, better writers.
Clearly, most people I know write more now than they did 10 years ago just because of the complete cultural acceptance of email. I never used to write this much before email. Although those of us who grew up in an age of more formal written communication can bemoan the conversational tone and lack of punctuation that can typify email, I think we can all agree that the very fact that the majority of people in the country are actually writing, and writing more than they would have 10 years ago, is a good thing.
Blogging takes this phenomenon a step further. I write way more now than I did two years ago, before starting to blog. I write articles for the heck of it, just because I find something interesting. Now that wouldn’t have happened 3 years ago, and certainly not 10 years ago.
The most recent reminder of the power of this medium came today in the form of a top Yahoo news story.
An Iraqi man casts his ballot at a polling station in town of Khan Bani Sa’ad between Baghdad and Baquba, January 30, 2005. Millions of Iraqis flocked to vote in a historic election, defying insurgents who killed 35 people in a bloody assault on the poll. Voters, some ululating with joy, others hiding their faces in fear, cast ballots in higher-than-expected numbers in Iraq’s first multi-party election in half a century.
I read this thinking, “ululating”? Does the writer mean “undulating”? Visions of swaying, rapturous voters came to mind. That didn’t make sense. What the heck is “ululating”? How could there be a word in the first paragraph of the news in my MyYahoo page that I don’t know, over-educated as I am? Forgive me for announcing my ignorance to the world, but I haven’t played scrabble enough to know this one. So, like any good modern day sleuth, I double-clicked on the word in question, copied and pasted it into Google, and clicked on the little “definition” link on the upper right side of the Google results page to see what it meant.
intr.v., -lat·ed, -lat·ing, -lates.
To howl, wail, or lament loudly.
Well that makes more sense. Thank you Google.
By the way, Google used to use the dictionary.com service that requires you to pay money to hear the pronunciation of the word. They have apparently switched to answers.com for this service which allows you to play an audio file of the proper pronunciation for no extra charge.
So, within seconds, not only have I learned a new word, I’ve learned how to pronounce it.
(Think uhl-ya-late NOT you-loo-late. I never liked the pronunciation codes they give you.)
Not only are we writing more, we are probably reading more too (reading the emails that everyone is sending us), and learning new words no longer requires a trip to the dictionary on the shelf. Better yet, we can finally get the proper, or at least the more common form of pronunciation. And now, we can all ululate with joy.