Review: Hall, Constance, and Scanlon, Jessie. (1999). Wired Style: Principles of English Usage in the Digital Age. New York: Broadway Books.

– Reviewed by Will Hochman, March 26, 2000
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The recently revised and updated Wired Style: Principles of English Usage in the Digital Age by Constance Hall and Jessie Scanlon (Broadway Books, l999) offers Academic.Writing a litmus test. Can the editors of Wired influence academic discourse? Is technology via a commercial and sometimes hip magazine the wolf in literacy skin of this text? What Academic.Writing says about how technology and literacy merge across the curriculum will be an ongoing statement, but what we discuss in the screens of Academic.Writing when we talk about English and language is likely to be an ongoing argument.

A quote from Newsweek just below the title on the cover is used to sell Wired Style as "A Chicago Manual of Style for the millennium." I don't think so. It's wrong to call this two hundred page book a style manual – the book consists of ten principles, a dictionary of cyberwords, and a Style FAQ – each section leaves a reader of style manuals wanting more, much more. Just as Dan Quayle was no John Kennedy, Wired Style is no Chicago Manual of Style. It's not even Turabian, APA, or MLA ... what this book really is about is how to style an e-life through discourse awareness, word sharpness, and responsive reflexivity. In other words, it's a guide to talk the talk if you want to express yourself online with a hip sense of techno-awareness evocative of writers who get published in Wired.

The paragraph above is a perfect set up to discuss what this so called manual doesn't do. Wired Style clearly lacks comprehensive considerations of ongoing grammar, punctuation and syntax issues, as well as a useful and comprehensive way to cite sources and present work in a variety of formal contexts. Instead, Hale and Scanlon offer attitudes and insights about writing online. The authors may have captured some of the main traits student writers will bring to our twenty-first century literacy classes, so with Cynthia Selfe's directive to "pay attention," we need to consider how Hale and Scanlon's work will affect academic writing across the curriculum.

The authors of Wired Style claim they are "trying to convey the excitement of technological innovations – in the language of those who create them." Here are the ten principles of this language: 1) The Medium Matters, 2) Play with Voice, 3) Flaunt Your Subcultural Literacy, 4) Transcend the Technical, 5) Capture the Colloquial, 6) Anticipate the Future, 7) Be Irreverent, 8) Brave the New World of New Media (or What to Do with–Aargh!–Titles), 9) Go Global, and 10) Play with Dots and Dashes and Slashes (Not to Mention !@#<<$*).

If Wired's principles of language are affecting or at least reflecting the ways young people write online, a closer look at some of the directives in these principles is bound to make literacy scholars dance. I suggest the music of Carlos Santana on his CD, Supernatural, because it won this year's Grammy and it is beautifully sung in English and Spanish. Just as the cultural drive of great music makes several languages sing on a great CD to all of America, technology will affect the ways we write. Nonetheless, listen to the concluding advice from the principle, "Flaunt Your Subcultural Literacy": "Consider your context. Narrowcast. Talk to your audience. Speak the culture." You don't have to be a scholar of classical rhetoric to hear the echo. However, Wired Style is not often traditional – in the fifth principle, "Capture the Colloquial," readers are told to "Write the way people talk. Don't insist on 'standard' English. Use the vernacular, especially that of the world you're writing about. And avoid lowest-common denominator editing: don't sanitize and don't homogenize." With this kind of advice I could comically shout INCOMING! – COMPOSITIONISTS TAKE COVER! ... but there's something honest about Hale and Scanlon's approach, something in tune with the convergence of old and new media.

The book's second section contains quick, paragraph-definitions with occasional definitions consuming several paragraphs. The selection of terms is fairly comprehensive if you like to read computer magazines and useful if you want to understand terms you're not going to find in the dictionary. As the authors warn in their introduction, "When it comes to a choice between what's on the Web and what's in Webster's, we tend to go with the Web." Their bias is open and electric, and more importantly, heard. On the March 19 Sunday Morning, Charles Osgood reviewed Wired Style, ending his fairly positive short piece by noting the irony that the text was published in the form of a book. Sorry Charlie, we're in a cross over age – it's unfair to fault thinkers of computers and writing for using paper. The real problem is that there isn't enough of the book to do its subject justice. I generally agree with Brian A. Garner's belief (expressed in his 3/9/00 NY Times review) that a "certain amount of their advice is sound" and that in places "the authors are stingy with their advice."

The final section of the book, "Style FAQ," is the old style of "Q&A." Hale and Scanlon offer a great explanation for hyphen usage, wisely recommend The Columbia Guide to Online Style, and explain aspects of writing online in their clear and authoritative responses to useful questions. There's a nice caveat for this book – almost an ironic tone in its prose and consciousness throughout the text's sections that says technology will make some of what the book says seem silly and obvious, or perhaps obsolete, so let's not get too serious or take this thinking about language too far. Hale and Scanlon do acknowledge the need to revise and update beyond this present edition and welcome our email queries at wiredstyle@wired.com.

Publication Information: Hochman, William. (2000). [Review of the book Wired Style: Principles of English Usage in the Digital Age]. Academic.Writing. https://wac.colostate.edu/aw/reviews/wired_style_2000.htm
Publication Date: March 26, 2000


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Will Hochman's Email: hochman@southernct.edu

Copyright © 2000 William Hochman. Used with permission.