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In reading Tribble and Trubeks’ “Writing Materials” I learned that writing is a product of historical circumstances and cultural values as well as of individual invention.(2). The reading selections enabled me to realize just how much I and many others take modern technology for granted. In the book writing itself is defined as technology, which threw me off very early in this assignment. I’d previously only thought of technology as something that uses electricity or some type of battery. I do understand that writing has been in many ways perfected by technologies such as the typewriter and computer but writing itself as a technology still seems to be a bit beyond me. My lack of understanding did make this project a little difficult yet interesting but what was more difficult was the project itself.
Trying to compose an idea for an invention was a very trying task, but after lots of thought and checklists, I was able to produce an idea that I thought feasible. I found it very easy to think of many different ideas at once and then go through them one by one checking off the things that were wrong or unnatural about them. One of the first ideas I explored was writing in mud. It was natural, I didn’t need many materials and it seemed easy enough. But I came to the conclusion that the text would be difficult to see, as well as understand and the mud would probably crumble into pieces. Another idea I explored was writing in the sand. There were many things wrong with this idea. First, whatever I kept the sand in would be unnatural. Also if the sand was moved, so was the text and lastly where in heck was I going to find sand in my apartment complex.
Finally I found an idea that I thought just might work. I would write a message on the bark of a tree with leaves using that sap from the tree to make the leaves stick to the bark. It seemed easy enough, everything was natural but the only thing was that it probably wouldn’t last very long. This I figured would only be a minor obstacle because as with the invention of all new technologies there would be a few glitches.
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As I began to gather the materials that I would need I began to realize that this would not be easy. I first had to find a tree in my apartment complex that I would be able to peel the bark from. In doing so I worried whether or not I would offend anyone by peeling trees because after all these were everyone’s trees. No one seemed to mind so I continued my work. Peeling the bark off of a tree was not easy job. Every time I tried I wouldn’t get a sufficient amount of bark so I had to keep trying until I got what I wanted. I began to feel like Plato, this writing thing was ridiculous, can’t we all just have a nice conversation? But that would have been too easy. My next task was to find a tree with sap or some form of sticky stuff (which is gross on many different levels) that would make the leaves stick to the bark. After examining half the trees in the complex I finally found one that had some sort of sticky concoction that would work just fine. And yes I wore gloves and yes they were unnatural but they were safe.
Assembling the project wasn’t so bad. I did it all outside, there was no way the sticky stuff was coming into my apartment. I did have trouble when my hands were sticky keeping the leaves in place bur when I finally did everything sort of flowed at a steady pace. Because of the small amounts of bark that I was able to pry away from Mother Nature, the amount of text was also small. I found this project difficult on many levels; one level was definitely a cognitive level. Understanding writing as a technology was a little different for me because of the conveniences of the modern world today. Being born into a world with already fast moving societal conveniences it’s hard for me to imagine anything other than the modern marvels that we now use. The pencil seems hardly worth all the commotion that it caused. In Dennis Barons’ essay “From Pencils to Pixels”, he compares he pencil to the computer by stating that it too is an advanced technology. (39) Until I began this project that statement seemed a bit off the wall. In trying to create my own form of writing technology I began to understand that from the most intricate right down to simplest invention, that as long as the invention served for the edification of industry for man, it was technology.
Along with the many different views and theories about writing and its technological aspects, Walter Ong has a very interesting approach. In Ong’s essay (which is titled “Writing is a technology that restructures thought”) Ong analyzes the key differences between oral cultures and written cultures and argues that literate cultures like or own produce a fundamentally different consciousness from that produced by cultures of primarily morality, such as the ancient Greece of Homer. (315) It seems to me that Ong is completely opposite of Plato, Ong seems to actually be defending writing as not only a technology but also a valuable invention. In “Writing is a technology that restructures thought” Ong speaks of written text in a very complementary form by stating that it’s rigid visual fixity, assures it’s endurance and it’s potential for being resurrected into limitless living contexts by a limitless number of living readers. (321) Over the past few decades there have been many different technologies and materials used to create text invented, from chiseling into rock right until the pencil was invented, I actually like them all. The invention of the pencil set the standard for advanced technology that was to come, I.e. the ink pen, word processor, typewriter and the ever so important computer. Computers are a part of the majority of the population’s everyday life so along with the introduction to modern technology most of us have been forced to use it. I have to work with a computer everyday and my job would be pretty much impossible with out one.
In conclusion I would like to say that this project has given me an understanding of writing as a technology and also the materials used to write. The progression of writing tools have definitely been a valuable asset to myself and I can only hope that through that history of writing technology and the inventions to come, that everyone will find something that works for them.
Tribble, Evelyn, Trubek, Anne. Writing Materials: Readings from Plato to the Digital Age. Addison Wesley Longman, 2003