Is writing education vital to emerging technology?

By Jeremy Cunningham
April 28th, 2017

In an age of technological advancement, it’s easy to feel obsolete.  I feel confident that education will always be needed; but, occasionally I wonder if writing education has value in a computer-driven world.

Students enter my English classrooms and see the course as a requirement for advancement.  They look at is as one of many “basics” they need until they can study their actual interest.

Katherine Schwab recently wrote an article that not only put my fears at ease, but declared the written word as vital to emerging technology. Schwab profiles a report titled “2017 Designs in Tech” which references writing as among the unicorn skills in design. Paralleling writing with the rare and sought after creature who displays great power dismissed any questions I had about professional relevance. She outlines some critical and practical ways writing is needed when designing user interaction with technology.

Writing as Job Market Differentiator

First, being fluent in writing code and traditional writing is a rarity. Both are acquired skills, and Schwab highlights the report’s author John Maeda’s trouble with finding designers who also know the importance of words. Both are relevant to a user’s experience with technology.

Designer Susan Stuart discusses that designing a user interface is a response to “a complete set of ‘what-if’ scenarios.” This is what writers do. Stuart distinguishes fiction, technical, and screenwriters in particular, but anyone who has written knows that the process is about anticipating questions of your audience and preemptively answering them. The best writing seamlessly puts these together so the audience does not even realize they had a question.

Writing for Great UX

This is similar to the best user experiences with technology.  Paul Woods states this clearly when he says, “we all know a great UI (user interface) is an invisible UI.”  And the best argumentative essay is the one where you don’t even realize you are being convinced until you are, in fact, convinced; the best narratives are the ones you don’t even realize you are being drawn into until you are craving an ending; and the best technical manuals are the ones where you don’t fully realize you are learning a technical skill until you have learned it.

Writing for AI

In addition to the design phase, Schwab highlights the use a mastery of language has in a world being ever-tailored to the masses. As artificial intelligence (AI) becomes ubiquitous, users will be communicating more with each other and with their own products through language.  Being clear and concise has never been more important.

Technology reaches into every sector. As an educator, sometimes I feel like I have left my subject behind just to become an expert in technology. Yet, I don’t even feel like an expert in that. Schwab’s article was uplifting.  It reminded me that transformation does not necessarily mean destruction. My success is based on my ability to put my skills to good use. I define my relevance.

This message should be universally displayed in English classrooms throughout the country.  Students walk in seeing a credit requirement that the world is leaving behind; what they should see is a skill requirement without which they will be left behind.