Thursday, April 8, 2010

The disappearance of language

When you write online content chances are you want people to find you. People find you by searching for something on a search engine, usually Google, whether it's a picture or a how to...or a place or a recipe. They type in what are now known as key words. Keywords. Big sites who are traffic dependent for advertising revenue need as many hits as possible. So the titles and context of their posts have to be geared towards searchability (see? new non-word). And the writers have to gear their text towards what will reward in terms of hits. Not only do we have to guess what people are searching for, better yet, it is analysed for us by a host of free web tools, and we write accordingly.

This is how we will lose poetry. And description. And nuance. And flights of fancy. And texture and layers of meaning. This is how the singular, individual voice will join the universal, nodding hum. This is where and how we will forget what words can really do. This is the great dumbing down.

So, A Mouthful of Spring will become, Where to Buy Ramps. Hunting Lunes by Moonlight will be How to See Ducks in the Dark.

No, these are not actual examples, but I am charged with free-lancing for a big corporation - for which I am very grateful - and this is sobering stuff.

The new language is about keywords and keyword phrases. It is about 1 + 1. No calculus allowed. Children not exposed to literature and poetry will never know how language can sing and play, startle or fly.

Some sites will be brave, no doubt, and hang on to original content despite the trend towards the blandest common denominator but this confirms that I will never, ever use advertising on a blog that belongs to me. Because the products own you. No matter what you tell yourself.


  1. You are so right Marie. You are putting into words what I was thinking. You hit the nail on the head...Thank you for saying so accurately.

  2. man, i'm just going to pretend i didn't read this. then i can keep titling my posts: "just thinking" and "pompoms galore".
    poor marie.
    i am glad searchability helped me find you:) something about figgy bottoms?

  3. I love a woman who stands on her own...the maverick among the group who refuses to conform to "dumbing down of society" and is willing to stand up for her principles and beliefs. The one who isn't afraid to play "with the big boys" and face them head on...we have women's rights, equal pay, and maybe one day...a woman president. I applaud your decision to buck advertising and do what you's your blog, not theirs.

  4. When we moved to Holland and youngest daughter , who spoke English and Spanish at the time , went into a special Dutch Language Introduction group at school , I asked about the content of the course.
    Was told that literature and poetry weren't included because they weren't important in this context . Everyday things like reading washing instructions were .

  5. yes, I'm with you marie. we have lost such beauty and subtlety in language. i don't think i can bear another "new and improved"!

  6. Just look at the number of world languages that disappear every single day because no one says or sings them any more. Where would peoples of the world be now if it were not for the "keeper of the keys" who, with language, paintings and songs, passed a wealth of knowledge down through the ages. Things as simple as how to cook wild game, how to feed children born into the bush. And important things such as where ones homeland stops and another one begins, and what the stars and moon and clouds and the color of snow tell us about what is ahead for one in the next season.

    Now they want to dumb us down some more. Heard about what Scrabble is doing?

  7. Hmmm. Sometimes I wonder if the compulsion to grow traffic is born from the curiosity that web-savviness, in general, inspires. Is it akin to the same desire to see growth in nature, in relationships?

    I think for a new blogger, it's easy to be misled that a big audience equals a desirable outcome. I tend to subscribe to the school of thought that less is often more, and that I'd rather have 10 high-quality posts over a month than 100 per week. Keywords can stick it.

    Lots of blogs (especially those with commercial interests) started small with good intentions, and then were wooed by the perception of 'power' that comes with a big audience or finally making a paycheck. But I always find myself drawn to small, personal bloggers to whom I can relate and aspire. When your conscience disappears, your audience can tell.

  8. That's not to say you'll ever lose that conscience; sorry if that was unclear! :) I mostly meant that this new gig is lucky to have you, Marie! (Congrats!) Keep on fighting the good fight, like always!!

  9. I had a conversation about this with my blog partner yesterday. She asked if we should be more conscious of search-engine-findable-post-titles. While I fully understand that "Bad Behavior in Central Park" is not going to lead readers to my blog the way "Kids Kicking Plane Trees" might, I refuse to give up the joy I find in turning a phrase just the way I want. Own your words!

  10. Well, I was going to write that I agree with you 100%...

    But after putting both my feet on the terrace, I think I can only agree with you 66%. How's that for gardening with redundant keywords written in a square comment box? ;-).


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