In my early days of blogging, I was often overwhelmed by a sense of wonder at how far my writing traveled. When I saw the names of all those countries listed on the stats page about where people were reading my blog from and sending me heartwarming comments, I was amazed. I expressed my new-found wonder in a post called My Blog Audience where many readers shared similar feelings about their writing.
As I progressed with my blog through the months, I got more and more used to the fact that while it was my day, my reader could be reading at night. While it was summer where I was, my reader could be shaking off snow from his boots somewhere. While the country I was in might be at peace or engaged in a distant war, my reader might be not be in such fortunate circumstances.
Getting used to the novelty of an experience is inevitable but it can be very dangerous for one’s writing. Leaving aside other considerations where a sense of wonder aids the writing process in today’s digital age, failure to remember the diversity of your readers and their backgrounds can take away important nuances from your writing and prevent it from reaching its potential for readers.
But here is a paradox. As a writer you must be comfortable showing who you are or where you’re coming from or what your own concerns are because there is nothing so boring as a colourless, generic piece of writing. The writer’s identity remains important in digital spaces while the potential reader’s identity needs to be given more of a free range than earlier in our digital age.
As far as the readers are concerned, the writer can neither assume they are just like them or the opposite of who they are. One way of developing depth in one’s writing is to always maintain nuances whereby one is able to appeal to and address a vast range of readers keeping in mind that they may span the entire spectrum of the whole range of exactly same to completely different and everything in between.
Even if one is addressing a niche audience, the internet has unlocked a huge potential readership so that we are able to reach people we may not have been able to reach before. We may find like-mindedness in unlikely places despite the fact that those people may eat a different cuisine or dress in a different way.
In fact, it is quite possible that you may find someone at the other end of the globe who understands what you’re trying to say far better than someone who is right here. So why not welcome them as readers?
Yet, as we keep those other readers in mind, we might need to do a few things differently in our compositions. Because of the vast geographical and cultural differences of people reading our works, we must examine our assumptions before putting them out there and either explain them or defend them but not assume they are truths universally acknowledged.
Conveying background information about common events, beliefs or social mores are crucial for understanding. Too much information may lead to boredom while too little will make some readers scratch their heads. Biases and perspectives not obvious to the writer may need to be clarified.
Idioms and turns of phrase may not get across the global divide. It’s not just the colourful phrases accepted in the standard English of some countries such as “break a leg” or “tell me about it” that has potential for misinterpretation. There can be local turns of phrase originating perhaps in a misuse of language (such as “I freaked out all night” meaning “I partied all night” in Bangalore–something I recently encountered and am still not too sure of –part of a lingo not standard in Indian English) that can be puzzling. Yet, getting rid of all idioms from a piece will surely herald the death of language and composition and everything writers stand for.
Details we mention in our writing might also suffer a change in significance as its travels the internet. Someone I describe as dark skinned may not be visualized in the same way by the reader from another geographical location. My descriptions of heat or cold in a bitter winter in the temperate zone may be felt differently by a reader reading in the tropics. My description of an exotic flower may not be exotic at all to the reader while an analogy I provide to explain something may simply have to be guessed at by whoever is reading my piece. (I remember the description of the movement of a propeller in a turbo jet in a BBC educational show for kids as being similar to the movement of water in a dishwasher puzzled my then six year old nephew in Calcutta very much.)
Perhaps some of these changes and miscommunications are inevitable. In our global world, perhaps some of these gaps in understanding will give rise to new kinds of sense perceptions through language. Perhaps the world will come so close together soon that we will all delve into the same sources and methods of understanding.
But until then, we might be better off being aware of differences and informing our writing based on a sense of the diversity of our readers.