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Thoughts & Views: We can all learn from the ‘write’ stuff

In its July 1 editions, The New York Times reported that, starting this month, the Associated Press would use computer automation to “report” about companies’ quarterly earnings.

The computer software company, furnished with data from a research source, will spew out stories “written with the tone, personality and variability of a human writer,” according to the company’s website, The Times noted.

So, we’ll get dry corporate cash reports delivered with a poet’s touch. Sounds intriguing.

Computers already do a lot of our thinking for us. You can go on Google and pretty much get the answers to anything that may be puzzling you, without even having to crack a book.

And, should you wish to share your discovery with the world, all you need do is send it out via email or post it on Twitter, but please keep it to 140 characters.

In the olden days, people actually took the time to put pen to paper to convey their innermost thoughts but today, the art of writing is a dying proposition. Even the U.S. Postal Service is reining in its couriers.

Still, it’s useful to note that in those days when handwriting was a bothersome task, involving the application of a feather quill, ink and scratchy paper, not to mention the uncertainties of mail delivery, there were those who took the time to be faithful correspondents.

Perhaps one of the better examples of this labor, lovingly exercised, is the communication between John Adams, a Massachusetts delegate to the Continental Congress and later, president of the United States, and his spouse Abigail – who exchanged more than 1,100 letters during a nearly four-decade history. Sometimes, John Adams wrote multiple letters on a single day.

Since we’ve just marked the anniversary of our country’s separation from Britain, I think it’s appropriate to quote excerpts from John’s two letters to Abigail penned on July 3, 1776, that relate his joy and relief that the Declaration of Independence has passed muster, prescient expectations about how the event will be marked in future years, but also fear of the struggles that await the signers and their countrymen:

“The Second Day of July 1776 [when the Declaration was agreed to], will be the most memorable Epocha, in the History of America. 

“I am apt to believe that it will be celebrated, by succeeding Generations, as the great anniversary Festival. It ought to be commemorated, as the Day of Deliverance by solemn Acts of Devotion to God Almighty. It ought to be solemnized with Pomp and Parade, with Shews, Games, Sports, Guns, Bells, Bonfires and Illuminations from one End of this Continent to the other from this Time forward forever more. 

“You will think me transported with Enthusiasm but I am not. – I am well aware of the Toil and Blood and Treasure, that it will cost Us to maintain this Declaration, and support and defense these States. – Yet through all the Gloom I can see the Rays of ravishing Light and Glory. I can see that the End is more than worth all the Means. And that Posterity will tryumph in that Days Transaction, even altho We should rue it, which I trust in God We shall not.”

 And there is John’s discussion of human nature and his prescription for how children should be raised, as related in a letter to Abigail, written Oct. 29, 1775:

“It should be your care, therefore, and mine, to elevate the minds of our children and exalt their courage; to accelerate and animate their industry and activity; to excite in them an habitual contempt of meanness, abhorrence of injustice and inhumanity, and an ambition to excel in every capacity, faculty, and virtue. If we suffer their minds to grovel and creep in infancy, they will grovel all their lives. 

“But their bodies must be hardened, as well as their souls exalted. Without strength and activity and vigor of body, the brightest mental excellencies will be eclipsed and obscured.” 

Good writing speaks for itself, whether it’s composed on a sheet of parchment or a laptop. And I guess if they had computers around in the 1700s, people like Adams and Franklin and Jefferson would have made good use of them.

 – Ron Leir 

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