The pen is mightier than the voice?

The migration from voice communications back to text-based communications is pretty amazing.  150 years ago virtually all communications of any distance (beyond shouting) was done by the written word.  Even 50 years, most customer service, any kind of formal business communications, etc. was still done by writing it down.  Then we went into the voice age  – think 1-800 – where people communicated primarily by talking to one another.

Now we are witnessing  a wholesale move back to text.  My daughter might make a couple of calls a week on her cel phone.  Maybe.  She sends between 2000-3000 text messages per month.

This extends of course into the corporate world.   Consumers want to interact with companies now by email or social media.  They want to express their opinions via blogs.

This has huge economic development implications.  I talked with a firm yesterday that has a relatively small call centre-type operation in New Brunswick and they are increasingly interacting with customers via email, blogs and social media.  They are also having to write far more formal text than even a few years ago.  This is micro-sites for specific products, formal online information about a product or service, briefing notes to clients, etc.

This is just exploding.

For New Brunswick, it means we should be leaning into copy writing as a primary skill taught in high schools, community colleges and universities.

I have been told by a couple of university professors that New Brunswick kids in general are not as good writers because most of them are learning to write in two languages simultaneously.   I am not sure of the validity of this but I do know that 15 years ago when we were talking to companies about moving call centres here writing skills were hardly mentioned.  Now it is critical.

I took a quick look and I don’t see a single copy writing or social media content editor program at the NBCC.   I don’t think there is any real emphasis on on this at the high school level.  Once again, New Brunswick will be the last into the game.

If I was the guy behind the curtain pulling the levers and pushing the buttons, I would turn out hundreds of community college graduates with social media content editing skills and I would promote that fact to the world.

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8 Responses to The pen is mightier than the voice?

  1. Kate says:

    NB is not alone where written (and oral for that matter) communication is an issue of concern. I’m am a retired business professor from ON now living in rural NB. So many of my students submitted assignments that were little more than text messages – acronyms and all! There may be some validity in the dual language argument as many of my students were new Canadians though there was little gap in their skills and those of the other students. So often I attempted to impress on them the power of words to not only get them in the door but to succeed in their career. That said, it was also made clear to me by powers above that only a very small fraction of marks could be assigned as spelling/grammar etc. I think this is an age/era phenomena that has never been addressed at the elementary level and beyond. (thumb typing doesn’t help much either!)

  2. richard says:

    Among the employees in our business are three highly-educated professionals (i.e. they all have postgraduate degrees in a technical medical field). It’s interesting how they differ in writing skills, even though they went to the same or similar universities. Part of their job includes writing a monthly article for our company’s news blog – quite a different activity from their other work which is largely verbal or technical. The oldest (mid 30s) has the poorest writing skills. The two youngsters (late 20s) have much stronger writing skills; not surprisingly given their ages, they spend much more time using social media. One of the two younger employees is an FI graduate, whereas the oldest hardly speaks a word of French.

    I see your point re writing skills development. But I am not sure how the problem can be addressed – it isn’t a quick fix that’s for sure. I just wish we had the same sort of coverage for writing competitions and science competitions at the primary and secondary schools as we do for the jocks.

  3. Very interesting post here. I have to tell you that I don’t believe the argument about the “two languages” being a barrier. The barrier is “not writing” anymore. I would like to see a comparison between how many words are actually written by children these days in school and what it was like 15, 20, 30 years ago. Also, we have to understand that like any tool, if you don’t use it on a regular basis you loose it at some point. Few of my friends are doctors. Bright individuals. In school, they were the one winning the poetry contests, etc. Right now, most of them, if not all, tell me they can’t write a single sentence without making tons of mistakes. They lost it along the way because they don’t have to write anymore.

  4. mikel says:

    I’m not sure the word of two professors can be taken as gospel. Most of the research I’ve seen shows that writing skills have markedly improved. And if we are talking about basic grammar, you’ve probably noticed that most word processing software nowadays actually finds and corrects grammatical as well as spelling mistakes.
    That’s partly a response to a society that sees little value in such things. It’s no surprise that NB’s most famous english author writes depressing novels and has to live in Toronto to even make a living.
    That’s why so many were so upset with Alward’s killing of the tax credit for film production. That’s an industry that at least encourages reading, and today we read in the paper that the province brags about giving payroll tax rebates to an industry that slaps minihomes together so that more NB’ers can make a living hammering together 2 by 4’s and siding.
    As Richard says, there is such little emphasis on literary skills that its hard to know just what is going on.
    Even if we were to believe a few professors that writing skills ARE declining, I certainly don’t think we can take it as carte blanche that the reasons are what they say they are. In fact, I’ve read that the opposite is true.

  5. > I have been told by a couple of university professors that New Brunswick kids in general are not as good writers because most of them are learning to write in two languages simultaneously.

    NB kids may not be good writers, but from my perspective bilingualism is probably mitigating that problem, rather than causing it. People who are bilingual have more facility with language, and especially the mechanics of language, because they see every construction from two vantage points.

    That said, language education, and especially writing skills (what you are calling ‘copy writing’) are essential, and today I would be inclined to extend that to multimedia communication in general.

  6. I am a big supporter of bilingualism. It is one of a very few attributes that differentiates New Brunswick.

  7. Susan Holt says:

    I completely agree with the conclusion of this post David – let’s “turn out hundreds of community college graduates with social media content editing skills” and “promote that fact to the world.” Having reviewed about 97 cover letters for a position that required “solid written communication skills” I was appalled by the poor grammar, spelling, punctuation and general effectiveness of the letters, even those submitted by Communications grads and English grads!

    I agree with Stephen that bilingualism and French education likely improve a person’s writing skills, and think NB should continue to teach both languages in school to as many young people as possible.

    Finally, I’ve forwarded this link to a contact at NBCC. Am I naive to hope that they might look into this for 2012 programming? I could probably drum up at least a handful of employers who would commit to hiring these grads sight unseen.

  8. richard says:

    ” let’s “turn out hundreds of community college graduates with social media content editing skills””

    Are you also going to tell NBCC where the resources will come from to achieve this, or where they will cut to provide those resources?

    “I was appalled by the poor grammar, spelling, punctuation and general effectiveness of the letters, even those submitted by Communications grads and English grads!”

    Correcting poor grammar and creating social media editors are two different issues. The former is the responsibility of the primary education system; the latter would be someone else’s job.

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