How do you want our culture to be remembered?
Such an open-ended question seems almost useless. You can't ask 300 million people how they want their culture to be remembered because everyone's culture is a little bit different. You can't describe the exact scent of a Monday morning on a fishing boat in the Gulf of Mexico and claim that it's part of the same culture that hands down the memory of the noise on Friday evening on Wall Street as the bell rings and the stocks close for the day. The person who can describe to you the taste of a warm peach just picked from a California orchard is not part of the same culture as the person who makes you shiver with recollections of an Alaskan gold mine during an unseasonably cold fall.
Still, in a thousand years, all of these memories will be what's left of "our" culture. When future archaeologists dig up our old newspaper articles and our books and our letters, they're going to judge our culture based on our writing, our prose. They'll judge us by our fiction and our non-fiction, our news reports and our satire. So when you ask someone how you want our culture to be remembered, what you're really asking them is, "What story do you want to tell?"
Like a lot of things, it's easy to stop wanting to write when people start forcing you to do it. Most of us who have graduated from college can write a decent letter or e-mail, and have maybe even written a nice poem or short story in our educational careers. But sometimes it seems like you'd be hard-pressed to find people who want to sit down and write simply for the sake of sitting down and writing, and not because they want to be famous or get published or make a point. Other times it seems like the only writing left is - to put it nicely - crap, especially when we are constantly being directed to websites like this one where the admittedly tragic efforts of the student authors point toward a future devoid of art and intelligence.
The sad truth is that students are being taught to treat writing with roughly the same attention to detail and heart as widgets being fashioned by machinery in a large factory. Even the people who score SAT essays are given roughly 2 minutes or so per essay, and these are arguably some of the most important pieces of writing a student will produce in their lifetime. When people who are supposed to be teachers - even experts - undervalue writing this way, it's hard to convince anyone that there is merit to writing down their stories, thoughts, musings, or research.
Imagine, though: the recent Egyptian revolution has been called the "Facebook revolution," because at it turns out, you can fit a rallying cry into a Facebook status. Dozens of people have their lives changed every day because they posted a few words about their story on Reddit, or because a friend retweeted them. The quality of your life can improve just because someone told you what their dream was. Words make a difference, and the worst thing you can do is to not write down the words that matter to you.
Ultimately, the more voices that are heard, the more that will come up with important messages. The more people who bother to write it down and put it out there when something bothers them, the more times people will realize that they're right. It's not about being the best or the brightest, it's about making sure that your part of the story gets told. Who cares if you can't spell? Who cares if you represent a tiny fringe section of the community? Who cares if your opinions are completely mainstream?
What people will care about in a thousand years are the stories that we tell now. If our obsession with what is arguably Shakespeare's worst play (I'm looking at you, Romeo and Juliet) is any indication, no one's going to care if your emo LiveJournal post from when you were 14 was good or bad. What they're going to care about is that you were brave enough to tell the story of the time your eyeliner ran into your eyes in gym class and you accidentally copped a feel of the teacher's ass as you stumbled blindly down the track and knocked her over. You don't have to be Hemingway or Dickinson or Angelou for your story make a difference. You can be the kid who used to have black hair and wear safety pins all over the parachute pants you bought at Hot Topic, and still your writing can matter.
And finally, to the generation of 20-somethings feeling prematurely washed-out and inconsequential, know this: writing is free. You can literally sit down and write for free. The coffee shop will kick you out three hours after you bought a small coffee and spread yourself out on a couch in a corner, but you can do it until they get too annoyed. You can sign up for NaNoWriMo and give yourself hours of delicious frustration as you finally jot down that Doctor Who/Twilight fanfiction you've been thinking about for years. You can get a blog or make a tumblr or sign up for Buzzfeed Community and celebrate the 20 "likes" you get when your Facebook friends see your post.
There are so many ways you can make a difference in the world, no matter who you are. It might take you years, even decades to find out what you'll do, but you will find it. Right now, though – right now there is something you can do to add to our story.
You can write.
And you can tell your story.
And you should.