Texting at the End of the World — By Patricia Coleman
Updated: Nov 6, 2021
“Peace, quiet, a dictionary—it was so important, yet at the end nobody had any time for any of it.” John Ashberry
Before the end everyone had given up speaking. They had instead begun to write. To text. Soon no one could speak. For many of us this was a relief, as voices had always in our experience been used to pry some piece of ourselves from us. To hurt or seduce. With all words in writing we now had time to consider. Lovers were not compelled, nor children, parents. Employees and employers, artists and homeless were free of one another to come and go, to be silent.
It was not for everyone. People began to not know how to answer one another. If there were a question (spoken or written) the respondent thought of his answer for as long as he needed solely in terms of text: how do I craft the right answer? The one that will have exactly the right effect, and in this way text absorbed the seduction of voice. Those with questions became ever more oppressed, waiting not only for an answer but for the respondent to indicate the intention of crafting.
The pros outweighed the cons: people became writers, most not good writers, but writers who thought about how their voices translated into the written…through text. For years before the end, teachers had addressed the identical problem in remedial writing classes, often unsuccessfully: “Voice,” “text.” students wondered in those days what application such terms might have. At the time BTE theoretical language became interchangeable with popular language. Now it was known what that jargon stood for. The “text” preceded the voice almost certainly. For all. it became the only means for existing in the world. Speaking had demanded a kind of spontaneity that now was revealed as forced. An employer or a lover dreaded his employee or lover and having to respond immediately. It fell out of fashion to ever do so.
The hard-copy had now become obligatory for every manner of verbal exchange, and yet training had failed to make people ready. As a result, the market for rhetoric in texting exploded. There was too much need. English teachers were the natural first choice for consultants and the first to be treated as philosopher-kings. They were furnished with spaces and audiences who packed those little cubicles, transcribing, recording, using tricks to hold these prophets’ words, and while they were holding court they were adored. But it did not take long for English teachers to show how they failed in making practical the theories of text. Partly, it was that they were stuck in the ancient. Their theories for texting did not much differ from those of old rhetoric, which had lived on too long beyond its expiration.
Well, they did differ, yes, a little, in suggestions of length. Naturally evolving from the demands of the technology suddenly was a wealth of aphorisms. And a not very high standard of minimalist writing, which had been a dying trend anyway.
Poets were the next engaged to teach and to lead. They taught their students to write from experience, from the everyday. To create writing that would function, the texter must combine alchemically the crass and the eternal.
There was reason to celebrate. Parallel to theories of texting our culture had become a culture of writing.
A popular and rampant form that reached new heights, for example, was called sexting: Its essential use turned out to be that it furnished spouses, enemies and lovers of politicians as well as ordinary people all kinds of evidence of transgressions. One would think how foolish. I will certainly not furnish anyone with evidence, but in the moment of writing sexting created a high that outran quotidian sex. Words had a palpable impact for the first time in a very long time.
Gaining control over ones’ sexting impulses required a kind of gymnastics. Texts themselves became documents of those gymnastics. Where usual there were no evidences of such struggles.
Included in the present volume are the Texts that we collected from our dying culture along with notations and critiques by some of the most respected teachers, poets, late-night talk-show hosts, motivational speakers, train conductors, siri, and others who were equipped to discourse on the transition from speech to writing that announced the end.
Author’s Note: I began a writing project entitled "texting at the end of the world" about the phenomenon of “globalizing,” whenever it was that we started to see more and more people with their cellphones out in social situations--including the classroom (2008/9?). I started a blog around 2012 and asked friends to post pictures of themselves in response to questions about how cellphones encourage in us the tendency to apply one life experience to all of life, or one’s death to the death of the entire earth. I just now noticed that one of my creative writing students contributed to the blog just last year (2018)!