Story is king.
Story is everything.
Story is a state of mind.
Story isn’t over yet.
The above is my Google poem, “Story Is.” In case you’ve never composed a Google poem, it’s pretty easy. You just type something into the search bar, and the autocomplete suggestions form a poem. This idea is nothing new, but since Google suggestions are updated constantly, and autocomplete differs depending on the version you’re using, Google poems are always changing. According to Sampsa Nuotio, who runs the blog Google Poetics, if you find a great poem, you should be sure to capture it right away with a screenshot. When I type “story is” into the search bar tomorrow, I might get a different poem.
Autocomplete and predictive text are changing the way people type, write, and perhaps even think. The other day, I was tutoring a sixth grade student who was writing an essay about The Giver by Lois Lowry. He was typing this on his iPad, using two fingers to hunt and peck on the screen keyboard. “Do you want to use the computer instead?” I asked. “So you can use a real keyboard?”
“No. It’s faster for me this way.”
As I watched him type, I realized why. He only typed the first few letters of each word before looking at the autocomplete suggestions and picking the word was looking for; then he’d move on to the next word. That’s when it hit me: kids these days are typing in a totally different way than I do.
I’ll refrain from saying that my way is better, although I do think there is a certain grace to having your fingers poised on home row, and a certain music to the clackety-clack of a typist who can reach each key with only a slight stretch of the proper finger.
Nietzsche once said, after noticing that switching from paper and pen to a typewriter changed the nature of his writing, that “our writing equipment takes part in the forming of our thoughts” (Carr). So I wonder how predictive text might affect the writing process. If kids are used to typing something halfway and then getting suggestions for the rest, might it be hard for them to write something creative and original? Will they be waiting for suggestions to appear? Will they not know how to finish their own thoughts?
Every generation worries that, because of newfangled inventions and technology, the younger generation will become bereft of smarts or ability or creativity. (See that whole part in “Is Google Making Us Stupid” by Nicholas Carr about how the development of writing, and later the printing press, had scholars of the time concerned about the future of brainpower.)
And when it comes to creativity, there are many writers of previous generations who would turn up their noses at the thought of writing stories or novels on a computer, and yet that is how I compose most everything I write, and I think I’m doing okay. Heck, maybe the next great American novel will be written by someone hunting and pecking on an ipad.
The other day my younger brother, the extremely creative and talented Deven James Langston, was talking to my mom about his career. Deven is a Computer person with a capital “C.” He was a kinetic imagery major in art school and creates artwork through computer animation, moving graphics, electronic music, and digitally-enhanced photography. (To see some of the amazing monthly photos Deven and his girlfriend have been making, go here.)
Deven was talking to my mom about starting a youtube channel, which, to be honest, I didn’t realize was a viable career choice, but apparently it is. I was born in 1981 – a bit too young to be considered Generation X and a bit too old to be a Millenial. I’m at that age where, although I use technology, I’m a bit intimidated of it. Deven, on the other hand, is definitely a Millenial — he not only understands new technology, he loves it.
I look at Deven, and at the awesome art he creates in his free time, and I realize that, as usual, we old fogies have nothing to worry about. Kids are going to be smart and capable and creative, no matter what technology they grow up with. Finding a creative outlet seems to be part of human nature, and Google won’t take that away. Another human instinct: story. I’m pretty sure that we will be telling them – in some way or another – for a long time to come.
And besides, if people are finding poetry in the Google search bar, and kids are still reading The Giver, I don’t think we have too much too worry about.