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Has Anyone Seen My Pencil?

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Handwriting is in decline. But writing is on the increase. Paradoxical isn't it?

Think about it. How often do you pick up a pen these days? I bet it's not as often as before computers came along, (unless you're too old or too young to remember a time before computers). But you probably write more words each day now than you ever did with a pen or pencil. It's so much easier with a keyboard, and there's always another text to write, email to reply to, or online form to fill in.

What's happening with writing is no different to what happened with photography. How many photos did most people take, before telephones turned into cameras? It used to be that your mugshot graced your parents' windowsill, your passport and your police file, if you had one. Now it's all over the internet.

And now look what's happening with videos. Hundreds of thousands are uploaded onto the internet every day. YouTube, which was a mystery to most of us when it first started, is now part of everyday life. Moving images used to be for the TV and cinema, we planned our viewing and idolised the stars. Now anyone can be in a movie. If the flu virus spread as rapidly as a viral video, we'd all be bed ridden.

It's a fair bet that the writing bug will become as contagious as imaging. Ebooks are just the start. Amazon may have invested millions in promoting the Kindle so they gain market share in digital books. But it ain't going to stop there. We are already doing far more with our e-readers than just downloading books; our newspapers, journals, magazines, even our business reports are all fired out to Kindles, Kobos, Nooks, iPads and Tablets.

All that's needed now is for the written word to be consolidated onto a website that will be the literary equivalent of YouTube. In many ways it's already happening; write what you want, hoist it up onto your Facebook page and everyone will be inspired by your words. Create a blog, devote most of your life to promoting it, if you're lucky a handful of people will glance at it, a couple will read it from beginning to end and someone might even comment on it.

Where's all this going? Old science fiction movies used to portray telepathy, non-verbal communication, as the medium of the future, a technique that the human race was evolving towards. Right now the opposite looks to be true; verbosity is king.

Of course, there will be gainsayers. The more we write, and the more our writing is disseminated, the more we will hear about 'literary standards'. There are already those who condemn senders of text messages for their use of non-grammatical constructions and abbreviations. 'Good books' are judged by their literary merit. But literary merit is a slippery term, Sebastian Faulks argues that "in the loadsamoney world of cut-price book publishing literary merit is measured in quids and by the yard."

The reality is that culture has always evolved in unpredictable ways. The mediaeval church forbade translations of the Bible because they feared their authority would be diminished; in fact what little authority they still have is almost certainly attributable to the fact that people can understand the Bible. The prosecution of Lady Chatterley's Lover in 1960 was intended to prevent sexually explicit literature; it not only failed but quite possibly had the opposite effect. Society decides, and our cultural norms follow.

Writing is being democratised. It is being taken out of the hands of the guardians of culture (whoever they may be). New vistas are opening up for the written word. It's an exciting time for people who write, and for people who read.