In this guest article, Ruby Assembly‘s Georgia Castricum recounts her recent experience at the Melbourne Writer’s Festival, pondering the future of written language. 

When I spotted ‘The Future of the Written Word’ on the 2017 Melbourne Writers Festival line up, there were a few reasons I was drawn to the session. Mainly, because I read the description (below) and got a little bit scared.

As technology develops, writing and the way we consume it constantly changes form – but will it ever die out, or will it continue to evolve in new, exciting ways? Ben Birchall, Amy Gray, Michael Green and Adam Pugh imagine the future of the written word.
Do you see why I became concerned? The part in the middle where someone at MWF put forward the idea that words may ‘die out’? Like it’s an actual possibility? Frightening.

Growing up in the smallest of country towns, I was the first kid scaling the fold-down ladder when the mobile library made its monthly visit. The 50-kilometer bus ride to high school was used for reading the Tomorrow When the War Began series and Melina Marchetta’s entire bibliography. When I moved to Melbourne for University, words were what I studied. They’re now what

I work with every day at Ruby Assembly. They better have a future!
You can understand why I locked this down as a session I must attend. I needed to know what others – experts – where thinking when it came to ~the future~.

This is what I heard.

Ben Birchall ‘visited’ us via his time machine from the year 2038. Australia had a new Prime Minister. Justin Bieber had finally learnt the words to Despacito. Books were gone. Birchall asked us where we were the year libraries became obsolete. Why we hadn’t marched in protest when the last bookshop closed. We’d done nothing and now books were gone. Thankfully, Birchall was only doing what the facilitators had asked – he was imagining. Birchall of 2038 had seen a world where the written word no longer existed and he was ever so happy to come back to us.

Amy Gray shared an extremely humorous eulogy, paying her respects to The Death of The Death of The Written Word. The written word had already died once before. Then it came back. And now apparently, it had died again. Using this eulogy, it became clear that Gray viewed the written word as cyclical. Though we may lose sight of words briefly – as emojis and GIFS take them from our fingertips – they’ll always come back.

Michael Green delivered a tale of his experience co-editing They Cannot Take the Sky: Stories from Detention. Green shared how he spent days and days transcribing interviews and accounts of people’s experiences of Nauru and Manus Island – only to be sent a link for the perfect transcription service when it was far too late. Michael sees a lot of value in voice-to-text tools like these. As, with increases in technology, there is opportunity for different voices to be heard. More stories will be shared. And that can only be a good thing.

Adam Pugh used an entire slideshow of wonderfully curated GIFs to highlight that even in our super connected society, where we are constantly fed a rolling stream of content, he is passionate that words will remain a valuable element in storytelling. They’re still especially necessary to deliver meaningful brand experiences.

So, with all of these stories shared. I left the session feeling just fine. I was confident that there was nobody in that room – or in the entire Festival – who was going to let the written word go down without a fight. As technology develops, writing will change forms, sure, but the written word won’t die in your lifetime and it won’t die in mine. The written word will continue evolving in new and exciting ways.

Georgia Castricum, Digital Strategist, Ruby Assembly