Is Writing Dead?

Benedictine Monk

Dateline:Monte Cassino, in the year of our lord, 583

At left, a Benedictine monk at work–but for how much longer?

Abbot Bonitus of the monastery of Monte Cassino is one of a growing number of abbots questioning the wisdom of teaching writing in this modern world.“There just aren’t that many jobs out there for people who can write any more.After all, who’s going to hire a scribe when there’s no one to read what he writes?”

Graduates of the Monte Cassino school are finding it difficult to get work.Brother Godulf of Saxony has been sending out resumes for months.“How am I supposed to find a job in an industry that’s laying off scribes right and left?” he says.Godulf doesn’t blame the low literacy rate, however.“It’s all about the money,” he says.“Monasteries used to hire scribes by the hundreds, but ever since the money stopped coming in, what with the fall of Rome and all, they’re so worried about the bottom line.”

Abbot Bonitus acknowledges the drop in income, but maintains the monastic business model is still viable.“We just need to figure out a way to compete with non-literate forms of information dissemination.Word of mouth is just so much faster than the printed word, even though everybody knows how unreliable the spoken word is.”

Bonitus blames the town crier model for turning many away from the written word.“Those criers just stand on their street corners yelling anything.There’s no fact checking, no editorial control.People even turn to them for the word of God, but do they really know what they’re getting?”Bonitus is worried that the town crier model is drawing too many untrained people.“Next thing you know, there’s going to be some guy yelling that the end is near, and how many people will panic as a result?It’s irresponsible.”

Felix of Aquileia scoffs at such concerns from his post in the town square.“Look, the problem is guys like Bonitus just aren’t producing quality work any more, and they’re blaming guys like me.But who reported on the Lombard/Burgundian brouhaha last year?It wasn’t Bonitus—it was Joshua Martialus, one of these dirty street corner criers like me.Where was Bonitus?Sitting up there in his monastery drinking wine and thinking deep thoughts. He’s terrified that he won’t get to be the gatekeeper for knowledge any more–and he should be.”

But Felix doesn’t want to see the monastic model fail.“We depend on them for a lot of great information.They’ve got the connections to get information from all over.I’m a guy on a street corner.I’m just tired of them blaming me for the problem.It’s not me—it’s them. If he wants the monastic model to survive, Bonitus ought to be looking at why people are turning to people like me.People out here are crying for information.I’m just giving one more avenue for them to get it. And even if our particular model doesn’t succeed in the long run, there will always be upstarts finding ways past the gatekeepers. Knowledge can’t be suppressed.”


Picture from the University of Oxford, from a 2001 lecture on the history of the book by the librarian of the Bodley, Reg Carr. It’s a cool article, with lots of fun pics.

p.s. Thanks for all the good wishes for last week everybody! My chorus placed fourth, which was lower than we had hoped, but we’re still the 4th best in the world, so I’ll take the big honkin’ medal that goes with it. We had a ball, but now we’re back to work so we can get back there again and do better.

3 thoughts on “Is Writing Dead?

  1. This piece cracked me up!
    But who reported on the Lombard/Burgundian brouhaha last year? It wasn’t Bonitus—it was Joshua Martialus, one of these dirty street corner criers like me.

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