Viewpoint: Dr. Larry Burriss, Written Word

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Written Word
03/30/2020

What do the printing press, telegraph, telephone, television, and everything about the Internet have in common: they are all devices for delivering information.

Let me rephrase that: all they do is deliver information. To paraphrase the movie Short Circuit: they don’t get mad, they don’t get sad, they just deliver information.


What seems particularly interesting here is that when these innovations were new the information each of them delivered was, on the whole, considered significant.

They were used to deliver important documents, news, correspondence between diplomats. And they certainly were not democratic in the sense that everyone could use them. They were difficult to use, and in many cases the machines themselves were not accessible except to a select group of technicians and, dare I say, acolytes.


What is also noteworthy is the importance placed on the message itself, not on the delivery system. Spelling and grammar counted, as did clarity of thought and the logic of one’s arguments.


Now, the Internet seems to be replacing all of these technologies. Just how much is open to debate, but there is no doubt the Internet has taken over a good deal of the functions of the old technologies.


As media sociologist Marshall McLuhan once said, the medium is the message. Today, unfortunately, that seems more true than ever.


Because what the Internet has not replaced is the importance of clear writing. Ask yourself, just how important are the illogical, misspelled, incoherent rants we see in most of the blogs infesting the Internet?

Sure, everyone has the opportunity to say what they want, but is that, in and of itself, important? How much do uninformed, angry outbursts really add to the discussion?


Now, let’s be clear: in no way do I advocate limiting speech on the Internet. Anyone with something to say should have the opportunity to say what they want.
But let’s not pretend that “opportunity” is the same as “importance.”

It just isn’t so.
I’m Larry Burriss.

Larry Burriss, a professor in Middle Tennessee State University’s College of Mass Communication and president of the Tennessee Journalism Hall of Fame, welcomes the crowd before the induction ceremonies at the Tennessee Association of Broadcasters conference in Murfreesboro for the Tennessee Journalism Hall of Fame. (MTSU photo by Andrew Oppmann)