Can Writing Become Viral?

We are past the age where the word “viral” only refers to a sickness (although Emily’s Norovirus seems pretty menacing). YouTube has taken the word “viral” to whole new levels. In this perspective , “viral” refers to the sheer millions of views that a YouTube video can garner. There are so many YouTube viral videos (insert link of top 50 list)!  A funny/quirky video on YouTube now has the possibility of bringing someone fame, fortune and recognition at the same time. Psy’s Gangam Style may not have been as popular or none of us might have heard Rebecca Black’s singing in Friday.

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I think this YouTube virality is both exciting and frightening at the same time. Anyone can view a video but the popularity can be short lived. Every week, it seems like there is always another video that is more popular than last week’s video. A few weeks ago it was the Harlem Shake. This week, I’ve been hearing about a Mila Kunis BBC interview.

But as a writer, I really have to ask, can writing become viral? With the increasing use of online videos, can a piece of writing ever reach the level of virality of YouTube videos? I think technology has definitely helped increase the access and availability of “writing” for everyone. The fact that I’m writing in an online blog and you’re reading this on a computer is a testament to this fact. But, in this day and age, will we actually hear of a fantastic article or blog post that someone wrote in Korea or in Florida?

We are far off from the virality that writing like Thomas Jefferson’s Declaration of Independence probably generated in the late 1700s. The only recent example of writing virality that I can think of is J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter or even the recent Fifty Shades of Grey. But these are actually full blown books and someone may argue that this type of virality is related to the stories. But, the internet is such a great tool. Anyone could read an article from TIME or post from Andrew Sullivan. But, can these ever be viral? I think technology definitely could make writing viral. Personally, I don’t think we have seen any true “viral” online pieces yet. Maybe the subjectivity of writing doesn’t have the same appeal as the “universality” of a video. Maybe, people just don’t like to read anymore…. Or, maybe writers are not “entertaining” enough… Maybe, people are not willing to spare the few minutes it takes to read something versus the seconds to view a video. These are all things to consider.

Why hasn’t a piece of writing been viral at this point? Or has it? Sound off in the comments below. I want to hear your opinion!

3 thoughts to “Can Writing Become Viral?”

  1. Veena-
    This is a really good point and I’m surprised that I’ve never noticed it before. What makes pieces of writing so much different from videos and other things that go viral so easily? They both can be incredibly powerful but it does seem like videos hold the advantage in this category. My guess is that, with video, all of the context and other important information can be gathered in seconds by looking at the first frame of the clip whereas with writing, the true awesomeness of a particular piece needs to be developed over time–I guess that’s why books, as you mentioned, are the most popular form of writing out there…because they are long enough to allow the context to develop adequately. The only examples of truly “viral” pieces of writing I can think of are quotes, such as this one about a philosophy professor ( that I’m sure you all have seen on Facebook or somewhere else, but even then quotes are usually accompanied by a picture or some other complementary visual. Like you said, maybe it’s just our short attention spans, but any “virality” these days seem to be limited to videos and 140-character quotes.

  2. Wow, interesting train of thought! I think that technology is the very thing that is responsible for making us so impatient. Just a decade ago, we had dial-up internet that took forever to load, but we didn’t mind all that much because the new and fresh possibilities that internet allowed were too exciting to complain about. However, we have become spoiled as internet connection has rapidly increased its speed. Now, when anything takes more than a few seconds to load, we want to pull our hair out. I think this kind of revolution has carried over to other modes of media besides the internet– writing, for example! Very few new age media consumers want the responsibility of pulling themselves into something that will take time to develop, such as writing. We want. everything. right. now.

  3. Thank you Sean and Emily! I think both of you are right, virality seems to depend on the length rather than the content of the writing. I wonder, if this will become worse and worse as time goes on…. Will we be dependent on a single word rather than 140 characters to state our message? Sean, you’re writing meaning is developed over time in a piece of writing. But, will there be an age where reading books become obselete because it takes too much time to read one. Emily, you mention an interesting point, our attention spans seem to be decreasing with each decade. I wonder what form writing will take next!

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