I spoke the other night to a group of students about writing. The Career Center had gotten us together to talk about careers in publishing. Here’s some of what I told them.
I said we were in the midst of a communications revolution. And no one knows where it will lead. And, even though the revolution is in its infancy, it has had a colossal impact on all of us. Just look around: instant communication around the globe, and everybody on the phone, texting, talking, sending pictures and video, absorbed by what we see on our little screens.
The effects on newspapers, magazines and book publishing have been radical, baneful, industry-changing. What does it all mean for those wanting to write?
Well, consider this. Until very recently aspiring writers had to be published by newspapers and magazines, or find their audience through books, television or radio. The media controlled the airwaves, the public discourse. They don’t anymore, I said; anyone can create a website, write a blog, self-publish a book.
Access is no longer controlled by the few, not just limited to the members. Call it the mass democratization of mass communication.
I also said that storytelling is fundamental to human nature. From cave paintings in France to battle scenes depicted on buffalo hide at the Snite Museum here on campus, people have been compelled to tell stories. And the world will always need storytellers.
It’s the medium that changes, and that’s been true for centuries. So learn how to do it well if you want to make a living telling stories, and be flexible — because today we’re still adapting to the shifting media and discovering how the media serve the storytelling.
But here’s the deal, I said. Because of the democratization of communications, there is an abundance of crap out there. Lots of crap. Clattering, yammering, cacophonous voices . . . needless, inane noise.
The media gatekeepers once maintained a standard of quality; communicators were educated, skilled and trained professionally and experientially. No more. Not today. Everybody has access, has a voice; anyone can post a video on YouTube for all the world to see.
So now, more than ever, the world needs voices of intelligence and reason, storytellers who know the human heart and mind, who want to seek and share the truth, and who can speak eloquently about the challenges facing the planet.
And, as corny as it sounds, I said, I wanted — when I was your age — to be a writer because I believed in the power of communication to bring about understanding, and I thought understanding to be essential to bringing peace and love and all things good.
So, I concluded, be mindful of all this, and go write.
So why am I telling you all this? Because walking back to the office after my talk, I thought about this magazine and this particular issue and how the stories here are all about the way we live today. And how they lend voices of intelligence and reason seeking truth, of the heart and mind and soul seeking the common good. They decry injustice and shine a light upon the beautiful, lament the wrongs and champion what’s right. They take a hard look at the state of things and promise hope.
And I thought about how valuable and important it is, especially today, for there to be institutions dedicated to truth and reason, to science and the spirit, and that encourage analysis, opinion and dialogue. And I thought how fortunate I’ve been to have worked at this magazine for 30 years, in this medium that encourages thoughtful engagement and serves the mission of such a place.