A whirlwind of textual discourse can be a difficult thing to properly address. All sides, all views, need to be taken into account. Every voice needs to be given equal time to speak their peace. Afterwards, notions need to be criticized, evaluated, synthesized, until a conclusion that’s taken something from everyone has been reached.
That’s not what I plan to do here. I won’t be directly critiquing and analyzing the work of Christina Haas and Dennis Baron in their respective works, Writing Technology and A Better Pencil: Readers, Writers, and the Digital Revolution. That’s a battle for another day, and the battle has only just begun.
Instead, I simply wish to comment upon the ideas brought up by both Haas and Baron with respect to a log of that tracked 3 days of my writing, and an activity in which I attempted mundane tasks via a variety of writing media, including clay, a typewriter, and a smartphone.
With that, it’s best to start off with Haas. Haas seems to be grasping a grander picture than Baron. Her “Technology Question” seeks to trace the changes writing as a technology in and of itself has made on humans, as well as how other technologies have influenced writing, and therefore, the human mind and human culture. Her piece seems to be more comprised of academia than Baron’s, and is far more “theoretical” and conjecture based. Considering that Haas wrote Writing Technologies in the late 20th century, it’s clear that the generally mundane nature of then-modern computing technology had not yet deeply influenced the nature of writing overall.
Baron’s piece has a far more modern, and personal, approach to the perspective on writing. The most notable example of this came from his decision to expose modern writers to ancient forms, in which his students were asked to transcribe a series of Latin phrases onto clay, which they themselves prepared to inscribe upon. This recount of the unity of the ancient and the modern was also textured with brief historical accounts into the nature of many writing tools, from clay to papyrus to type-writers to now-disused word processing programs.
Both Baron and Haas have ventured to understanding writing as a human invention, and how that invention has caused humans overall to develop. The most wonderful thing about their intent is that the influences of what they’re trying to see can be seen in even the most mundane of task; writing is still writing, but its subtle changes over the course of human history have done much for the development of humans as a species.
An activity that mirrors Baron’s experiment brings this subtlety to light. I was tasked to transcribe a Latin paragraph, write directions to my domicile and interpret Hamlet’s famous soliloquy on a variety of writing tools: a clay tablet, a brush with acrylic paint simulating a quill pen, a typewriter, a smartphone and a tablet. The task was the same every time, the only difference being the tool. Despite this, the level of difficulty, quality of writing and time taken varied greatly. This seemingly obvious statement returns to the subtlety that Baron and Haas investigated; writing as a technology cannot be properly understood without understanding its interactions with other technologies.
The key trend between each mode of writing was convenience. The more modern technologies proved to be easier to manage, had greater room for mistakes to be made and could be used to transmit more information over in less time. For me, the technology itself dictated how much I could write, how closely I needed to pay attention to my text and how I worded my phrases.
The general ease of the pen and paper, and the warm familiarity of a keyboard free the modern user from the shackles of the predecessor. Their minds may wander further, and who knows what they may bring back?
At the time of the completion of this blog, I also move closer to completing the tracking of my personal writing for a 3-day period. I’ve found that the reflective nature of the task has given me greater insights into my own processes, and what writing means to my being.
All in all, writing is the commitment of thought to the page. The idea to the screen. The spirit to world. As both Baron and Haas illustrate, it’s one of the most important things for this world, and taken for granted more than it needs to be.
To understanding one’s writing is an important step to enlightening the mind.
It’s a big leap into understanding who, what, how and why you are.