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Writing in the 21st Century
Why OSV Is Sponsoring 10 Scholarships to Write of Passage
“The intellectual is, quite simply, a human being who has a pencil in his or her hand when reading a book.”
— George Steiner
Over the past few years of Infinite Loops, we have spoken to some masterful writers. In the first few months of OSV, we have been fortunate enough to begin working alongside some of them.
From our perspective, despite the rise of AI and LLMs, we are not nearing the end of the written word, but merely the end of the beginning. It is our contention that—as the killer-app of creativity and civilization en bloc—the ability to write will never go out of style: for the ability to write is, at heart, the ability to think, to create, to inspire.
I. Writing as Technology
Writing is a 5,000-year-old technology: a technology so ubiquitous, so universal, that its gravity is easily and often taken for granted. Yet, despite the civilizational ascent of data and code, as well as the cultural turn toward the audiovisual, the stock of the written word has not fallen. The ability to write (and write well) remains as pivotal and powerful as ever, for language remains the technology of technologies: the air beneath the wings of science and art, the source code of civilization.
In fact, as society grows more complex and cutting-edge, the stock of our most ancient technology only stands to rise. The twentieth century was an era of specialization, which created a rift between the sciences and the humanities. “Shape rotators” worked on their corner of the universe, while “wordcels” worked on theirs. One culture became two, as C. P. Snow famously observed. It was a division of labor that proved fruitful for a time, but whose ultimate fruitlessness has since become difficult to ignore.
If the twentieth century belonged to the specialists, the twenty-first will belong to the generalists: those capable of not only shining light on ideas themselves, but on the space between them. It is an era for which writing is perfectly poised: a medium fluid and flexible enough to rebuild the bridge between science and art, past and future.
With Infinite Loops and OSV, we are embarking on such a bridge-building mission, so that—once again—two cultures may become one.
II. Writing as Thought
The upsides of writing are not merely societal, moreover, but psychological. With distraction lurking around every corner, the ability to contend with silence has become vanishingly rare. Yet, silence is a prerequisite for thought. In the words of Blaise Pascal:
“All of humanity’s problems stem from man’s inability to sit quietly in a room alone.”
This is true of the collective, but also of the individual. Writing is not only proof of one’s ability to sit in silence, but proof that one’s thoughts are deep enough to sit with. To be a writer is to be on the perpetual hunt for ideas: the very act of putting pen to paper demonstrates a curiosity that is difficult to teach, impossible to buy. From speaking to the likes of Brian Roemmele, Gurwinder Bhogal, Edward Rooster, Tinkered Thinking, and countless others, we have seen first-hand what a curious pen can do; we have seen first-hand what writing down two thoughts per day can do; we have seen first-hand what writing down one memory can do.
One can breeze through a degree or internship with little independent thought, but writing—good writing—is a different beast. It speaks to a certain extracurricular discipline that cannot be faked: a discipline that speaks favorably of one’s past and future alike.
Indeed, beyond thinking deeply, the ability to write well demonstrates an ability to think freely. It is a means of escaping the groupthink du jour, algorithmic or otherwise; a means of separating oneself from the pack, not in theory, but in practice. To write is to create—within oneself—a rising tide that lifts all boats: how one thinks, how one speaks, how one listens. It stands one in good stead, no matter the time, place, culture, or domain. As Francis Bacon famously wrote:
“Reading maketh a full man; conference a ready man; and writing an exact man.”
III. Writing as Talent
Writing serves as a proxy for a talent pool of oceanic proportions, for employer and employee alike. And yet, the traditional hotbeds of writing have grown cold. The publishing industry has bottlenecked, only favorable to the few, while academia has become synonymous with unreadable prose. Glacial by nature, legacy institutions have failed to keep up with the Internet, whose serendipitous potential remains largely untapped. Luckily, however, a fleet of new institutions are rising up to meet the future head-on.
In but a few years, Write of Passage has become a breeding ground for talent. Founded by David Perell, the school’s motto is simple: WRITE IN PUBLIC. In terms of results, the caliber of alumni speaks for itself. Ana Lorena Fabrega went on to become Chief Evangelist at Synthesis, Packy McCormick went on to create not.boring.co, the Cultural Tutor went on to conquer Twitter, the list goes on and on.
Why? Well, the team at Write of Passage are not only educators, but writers: doers. The very existence of WoP stems from David’s own frustrations with the status quo: a status quo that consistently overlooks millions of talented people around the world, who merely needed the right springboard and support network to unleash their infinite creative potential.
It is an ethos that very much aligns with all of us here at OSV. So, we decided to enter the fray. Last year, OSV underwrote 15 scholarships to Write of Passage—which brought Helen Jiang and Dylan O’Sullivan into our ranks—and this year, we will be underwriting 10 more.
In the age of the Internet, writing in public is a serendipity maximizer: a single key that unlocks many doors. By partnering with Write of Passage, we hope to swing wide as many doors as possible.
“You write in order to change the world, knowing perfectly well that you probably can't, but also knowing that literature is indispensable to the world.
The world changes according to the way people see it, and if you alter, even but a millimeter the way people look at reality, then you can change it.”
— James Baldwin