Speech vs Writing

John McWhorter believes politics has grown punchier because of technology:

[The written word] once mediated much more between people in politics. Even speeches were couched in writerly prose. Most were expected to engage them on the page, as technology didn’t allow all Americans to see politicians speaking live at the press of a button. Plus, without amplification, public language had to be more careful and explicit. One could not stand before a crowd and “just talk.” Public language had to be like the public dress of the period: effortful. Even Millard Fillmore’s inaugural address reads like Virgil.

It is no accident that the shrillness of political conversation has increased just as broadband and YouTube have become staples of American life. The internet brings us back to the linguistic culture our species arose inall about speech: live, emotional, unreflective, and punchy. The slogan trumps the argument. Anger, often of hazy provenance but ever cathartic (“I want my country back”) takes fire. All of this is reinforced by the synergy of on line “communities” stoking up passions on a scale that snail mail never could.