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I never thought about writing something down with a pen on plain lined paper involved technology. It always seemed to me that those things were around, pen and paper had just been there, for one reason or another for the purpose of writing down things, organizing ideas, or just jotting down notes. Much like Ong says, “The fact that we do not commonly feel the influence of writing on our thoughts shows that we have interiorized the technology of writing so deeply that without tremendous effort we cannot separate it from ourselves or even recognize its presence and influence. (Tribble and Trubek, 316-317) Creating a writing technology is something that takes a lot of thought. The process, materials, words written down, and the purpose of writing things down although common to modern society, was something that proved daunting to create.
When I was assigned to create my own writing technology I thought, “that’s going to be easy.” It was not easy. When conflicted with this assignment, the first thing I had to think about was “what am I going to write with?” I decided after what seemed like hours of brainstorm, to settle on a stick for a writing utensil. Next came ink. I first debated on creating my own ink, for this I would have to use things like books, or the Internet. Since books or use of the Internet were not in the spirit of the assignment, I used something else. I had to think what would stick to a surface and create enough of a contrast that someone would be able to read it. I came up with the idea of using some sort of fresh fruit. Frozen fruit, although cheaper, probably wouldn’t have worked well. Blueberries, as expensive as they were, seemed to be the best solution. I mashed the blueberries into a little dish, and then began to write. But then I realized I had nothing to write on. Making paper would have been hard. I can’t write on the ground, cause it wouldn’t be as permanent or portable. I found some bark from firewood that my dad had cut up. I grabbed the biggest chunk and began to write using my own creation.
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“What shall I write?” I asked myself. I started off by writing my name, Nick, and then continuing with the ever-so creative “was here.” And while I was continuing I stained my shirt with the blueberry ink. So I decided to make a note of this on my bark. I ended up writing “NICK WAS HERE, AND HE STAINED HIS SHIRT WRITING THIS. THAT’S TEN WORDS.” Which has no overall significance, I just thought it would be somewhat humorous. I wrote in all capital letters, for some reason. Upon thinking about why I did this, I was reminded of Mark Twain’s essay, "The machine did not do both capitals and lower case (as now), but only capitals." (Tribble and Trubek, 501). Perhaps a primitive thinking of the alphabet is needed to create something that primitive people may have written on. Simple is good. Having only one way to write a certain letter is easier than having to deal with all the rules of grammar and punctuation. I am so used to having to push down a button in order for the letters to become upper cased, that perhaps I just write in all caps because there is a lack of a button, and I have to think about capitalizing rather than blindly clicking a key on my keyboard.
"Those who use writing will become forgetful, relying on an external source for what they lack in internal resources. Writing weakens the mind." (Tribble and Trubek, 319) I find this statement by Plato, and confirmed by Ong to be very true, but with an exception to the weakening the mind. Writing, as Baron states, leaves a paper trail. For instance, if I take notes on something in a class, then I have something to refer to later. Does this weaken my memory? Absolutely. However it does not necessarily weaken my mind. If there were no writing technology, even in its most primitive form, then I would have to rely solely on my memory to recall facts, and points of discussion. It is because we have a writing technology that I immediately lost the information from my brain after I write it down on my paper, or type it into my computer. I shouldn’t have to remember this information when I have it written down, and can easily take out the notes and re-read them over and over again.
Does taking the notes weaken my mind, or make me ‘stupid’? Absolutely not. I think it might make me a little bit brighter as a matter of fact. If I write something down, I can also study it more effectively, not having to rely on my unreliable memory. I can get the facts down on paper as the speaker is saying them, rather than having to think about what the speaker said, I basically have a transcript of the lecture in front of me. Through the study of my notes, I can recall facts for a test; I can give myself the repetition that is necessary for memory of certain things.
Writing notes is not at all a perfect science. No writing technology can be fool proof to the point where errors do not occur. Twain notes this with the invention of the typewriter, “The early machine was full of caprices, full of defects-devilish ones. It had as many immoralities as the machine of today has virtues." (Tribble and Trubek, 502). I found this when creating my own technology. I was writing down words on my bark, and it became very difficult to make some letters, so I had to get a little creative with the way letters are shaped. My R seemed to be all over the place as it was hard to make curves with my makeshift pen. Also, there was a problem with the ink. Although very permanent and visible, it did not seem too easy to write with. The skin of the berries as well as the seeds, and consistency of the pulpy ink was problematic in being able to write down a straight, legible line. I improved the quality of the letters after practice, and on the 4 word or so, I started to get the hang of it. One must keep in mind when creating a writing technology such as berries on bark or a typewriter that keeping it simple is key in developing the technology. You don’t have to get it right the first time. I’m sure that the Sumerians didn’t have capital and lower case letters when they created the first written language. A primitive understanding or primitive thinking in creation of the writing is essential to its popularity. People will not want to learn something if it involves too much time or too many rules. Rules develop as a necessity, an afterthought.
I have found out through this project that creating a writing technology isn’t easy, it was also very time consuming, it is easy to see why it took so long for some languages to be converted to a written culture. But for as many languages that can be written, there are far more that are not. "Of all the tens of thousands of languages spoken in the course of human history only a tiny fraction-Edmonson (1971:323) calculates about 106-have ever been committed to writing to a degree sufficient to have produced a literature, and most have never been written at all." - Ong (Tribble and Trubek, 318) With the invention of the computer, everyone takes writing for granted. We no longer learn to spell certain words, or grammatical correctness. For spell check and grammar check are but a mouse click away. No one can spell check someone’s speech. Also, I can’t spell check my bark and berry writing. It’s too permanent. The berry will be dyed into the bark for a long, long time. If I wanted to change something in this paper, all I would have to do is highlight it and erase. Things change, technologies change, but the basic principal is the same. Writing lets things to be put down somewhat permanently for further study or reference.
Tribble, Evelyn B., and Anne Trubek. Writing Material: Readings from Plato to the Digital Age. New York: Addison Wesley Longman, Inc., 2003.