The discourse on writing and digital media is one that has spanned levels of time, space, discipline and experience. Comparing the nature of Christina Haas’ 3rd chapter of Writing Technologies pertaining to on-line reading and the piece written by Derek Van Ittersum and Kory Lawson Ching, Composing Text / Shaping Process: How Digital Environments Mediate Writing Activity, is wonderful exemplification of this fact.
The two texts are separated not only in focus and theme, but also by time. The nature of temporal progression and how it’s influenced the discussion is highly pertinent, as changes in technologies, interpretations of technologies, and development of new technologies will invariably change the nature of the discussion itself.
The case in point is that within Haas’ piece, Haas choices to focus on the nature of the computer’s more negative impacts on the processes of reading on-line for writers. She explicitly does this to provide contrast for the “visionary” or “celebratory” (p. 52) viewpoints that possess an overtly positive connotation, distorting one’s ability to properly conduct to the conversation; both the positive and the negative must be present. Also worth noting is the fact that the more positive connotations that Haas chooses to not focus on were essentially correct, in terms of how the computer could influence writing. In 2014, result-oriented views must be avoided so as to properly treat Haas claims with the validity that must be conferred to one, who in 1996, could not predict the meteoric impact computers and derivative technologies would have on writing from a rhetorical, cultural and technological standing.
Haas’ primary investigation found that while writing was easily done via the assistance of word processing units, the systems still had a detrimental affect on the writing process. Haas highlights 4 factors that are problematic with the 20th century’s word processing systems: formatting, proofreading, reorganizing and reading for a sense of the text (p.57-59). These factors were consistently problematic among subjects Haas contacted for her study, suggesting that this was a common, rather than specific problem.
At this point, word processing technology has developed and over come many of the problems that the technology previously had. And that’s the point- because the technology has made developments that were designed to rectify negative impacts, scholars of writing must think critically of the notion of instrumentalism.
It’s very easy to assume that writing is always just writing. It is entirely possible to transmit the same textual information in dirt, in clay, on vellum, or paper, or via a computer while having the textual information retain the same meaning across all mediums, but that notion makes a the dangerous mistake of assuming that the actual writing medium does not influence the writer, and therefore the writer itself. Van Ittersum and Lawson Ching illustrate this fact well.
A key idea that the webtext makes clear can be illustrated by the following quote: “Software interfaces can also attempt to tune consciousness in writing activity” (Ittersum and Lawson Ching). The core idea of their text is that the actual environment of the word processing program is going to influence the writer in different ways and as such is going to have some type of distinct impact of the writing process in and of itself. They illustrate this both by focusing on specific systems (the “distraction-free model” and the “Markdown model”) as well as specific examples of writers whom altered their digital environment to better suit their needs, such as the anecdote in the introduction of the writer who used two keyboards operated by hands and feet to alleviate stress in the wrists.
For the intents and purposes of the discourse that this blog’s author wished to pursue, information pulled from the webtext were taken in an entirely different direction. The authors of the text mentioned Microsoft Word in their introduction, and how it’s dominance as a word processing unit diluted the actual discourse of writing in the digital age, as compared to what the discourse had been in the 1980’s and 1990’s. The authors of the webtext also managed to illustrate the variety of word processors available and how they created different environments for different writers.
Many writers, especially those who are less technologically savvy, may never see those other options and are, in a sense, limiting their writing environment and their writing process overall.
Microsoft managed to form a semi-monopoly of processing units prior to later parts of the early 21st century, and in turn, managed to push microsoft as the go-to work tool. Many “writers” would not call themselves such; writing is simply a part of their daily lives and they must deal with that. As such, convenience, efficiency and speed or going to be valued. Microsoft word is easy to access, easy to use and is highly familiar. Because of this, many writers may not even be aware that their horizons may be unknowingly narrowed.
Despite the dominance of Word, the recent surge of competition in the form of programs such as Google Documents are bringing the nature of word processing units and how they affect writing back onto the table of discussion as Ittersum and Lawson Ching manage to put forth through their discourse on alternative systems.
This overarching movement towards opening the discussion of writing and digital media the basis for the Personal Investigation being conducted by the author of this blog. The main resultant of personal observation lines up with the notions brought forth by scholars like Haas, Ittersum and Lawson. The method of writing is going to obviously alter the writing process, if only subtly in some cases. But even in the most subtle of cases, this alteration brought about the simple decision of how to actually write, be it with pen or keyboard, is going to invariably influence not only the text itself, but the state of the writer, which in turns modifies the nature of the text. It’s part of an explanation of why the newer digital media have not out-moded non-digital writing, and why both can coexist.
What lies in the space between coexistance- specifically how different our writing becomes with the flourish of a pen versus a masterful keystroke, is the space that is ripe for exploration. And what a wonderful journey it will be.