This semester the writing department at the University of Texas San Antonio offered several scholarships to students enrolled in composition I and II. To qualify for the scholarship the students needed to write an essay discussing the importance of written communication in America. Only three scholarships were available for all sections of composition I, and the winning three were to be chosen based on the quality of their essay.
I was very proud that one of my students won. I’d like to think my instruction played a small part in his winning, but truth be told the only thing I did was encourage him to enter.
He granted me permission to post his essay here, and so without further ado, here’s Christopher Bigley’s, “The Importance of Written Communication in America:”
Archaeologists have been studying ancient civilizations for hundreds of years, successfully uncovering the ideas, thoughts, and beliefs that made up their cultures. Fortunately for the archaeologists, they have written language to analyze from those lost time periods, whether the writings are in the form of drawings on a cave wall or complete languages and alphabets on artifacts. Every civilization had a distinctive way of writing that distinguished them from others, similar to a fingerprint. Perhaps the ancient people thought of their writings as a way to communicate stories for generations to come, but I doubt they ever thought of their writings as the key to preserving their society, the very key we use to unlock the mysteries of the past. Not only did they communicate through their writings to each other, but now their writings are communicating to the civilizations of today. One of the most basic instincts humans (or any animal for that matter) have is to survive. Death is imminent, but our legacies, cultures, and ideas can be immortalized when written down on a wall or a sheet of paper.
In the age of computers, everything is typed and emailed and text-messaged to people around the world. There is only one problem… when our culture is long gone and people are digging up our laptops and computers, there will be no fingerprint to remember us by. All that will remain will be piles of plastic, silicon chips, and dead batteries. Perhaps some printed material will be uncovered, along with some Microsoft Word documents on a hard drive, but they will lack the uniqueness characterized by handwriting. Everyone writes different, but Times New Roman font doesn’t say much about who wrote the document. How much historical credibility does a completely anonymous writing have? Our societies, our cultures, our ideas and thoughts will still exist, but the people will never be remembered. Our only written communication future scientists will have to study will be our post-it notes that we stuck on our refrigerator door reminding us to buy toilet paper at the store. This is not a legacy that I think America (or anyone for that matter) wants to create.