Writing Technologies

photo cred: geoandresearch on Flickr

My handwriting looks like a drunken 5-year-old’s whose arm is in a cast (the drunkenness and arm cast may or may not be related… I don’t know: I had nothing to do with it).

It’s downright undignified.  And I say that quite seriously: it is impossible for anyone (including myself) to look at my handwriting and feel even a modicum of dignity.
My solution to this problem, however, is to never write anything by hand.  My composing is now almost exclusively computer-mediated.  I sit down in front of the screen, place my left pinky finger on the A key, my right on the ; key.  My thumbs remain poised above the spacebar.  Then my right pinky stretches down and right while my left index finger simultaneously bounces up and right.  Capital T.  My fingers (I’ll not be so trite as to say that my fingers ‘dance’ across the keyboard, but I recently saw a video of Gene Kelly tap dancing and my fingers do verb somewhat like he verbs) move rapidly across the keyboard and I compose in standardized, digital typography.  No more handwriting for me.

Back to position #1: index fingers on the F key and the J key.

Every now and then my right hand leaps over to the mouse.  Suddenly my hand is extended into an arrow on the screen, sometimes a finger, sometimes a white-gloved hand.  In this way I click, manipulate, move objects and text on the screen.  What odd inventions the qwerty keyboard and the mouse are.

One of the more powerful and interesting arguments that runs throughout James Murphey’s A Short History of Writing Instruction, at least from my vantage point, is that the materiality of writing matters.  The transition from composing on papyrus to composing on scrolls to composing a codex to composing with a pencil to composing on a typewriter to composing on word processor necessarily requires us to adapt our compositional and rhetorical practices.  The contributors to this collection A Short History of Writing Instruction make clear as they move through history, writing technologies affect our composition practices and pedagogy.

With this in mind, I’d like to speak now in the future tense.  There’s no doubt that the qwerty keyboard and mouse will remain with us in one form or another as key parts of our writing technologies; however, significant developments in haptic and gestural interfaces are making possible new ways of composing and interacting with data.  Of course, composing has always been embodied, arguable to a greater or lesser degree (as my description above hopefully illustrates).  I’d like to suggest though that as composing environments become more physically immersive, as a field we’ll have to begin thinking about their effects on our compositional and rhetorical practices in new ways, perhaps with particular attention to embodiment.

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One Response to Writing Technologies

  1. kerwoodcomp says:

    Brent, I really enjoyed your post as I was literally thinking last night about how I have to really scramble to find a pen anymore as I rarely write by hand. I was playing on my fiance’s iPad that his work gave him, and I started to think about all the different possibilities that this technology could provide – and I then thought, “Oh cool, I can put games on this and actually write ON it with a stylus….” I’m curious to see how our practices will have to adapt, and I’m trying to figure out a way to integrate the Kinect into my classroom….hhhmmm.

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