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“The first writing technology was writing itself (39 Baron).” -Dennis Baron, From Pencils to Pixels
Re-introducing myself to a task that I have taken advantage of my entire life proved both frustrating and time consuming. Writing has always been done with at least a pencil hasn’t it? Apparently not, and I realized that as I set out to “create” a non-technological way to write. The new way of writing I created, although effective, took quite a bit longer than I had anticipated. Thinking of an idea for this project was easy; it was putting that abstract thought into concrete form that proved difficult. Armed with the best of intentions I set out to create a project equivalent to Egyptian hieroglyphics carved on the tops of pyramids. I soon realized that I set my goals a bit to high so I began scratching a few words into a piece of tree bark with a rock. When that proved not as interesting as I wanted, and certainly not as aesthetically pleasing, I moved to plan B: creating my own ink by boiling grape peals. The ink was a deep shade of purple (and smelled like wine); I was sure it would write just like ink from a pen and I would have a beautiful project.
However my ego got the better of me. As it turned out the fermented ink would not write on my bark surface. Instead it absorbed into the bark never to be seen again. I moved to plan C. Creating a smoother surface for my wonderful ink by mixing flour and water and spreading it over the bark-again unsuccessful. Plan D: stick with the flour and water mixture but carve into the surface, like clay, before it hardens completely. (I had utterly given up on the ink.) Success! I had finally created a new way to write. In just over three hours I had a ten-word document. It wasn’t profound; it wasn’t beautiful; but it was certainly permanent. My creation came to life.
Through this inventing process I was not only able to make a new writing technology, but I also learned something very valuable about myself-I have surprisingly little patients.
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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 (Ong 316-17).
Writing is as natural to me as breathing. When the challenge of this project was proposed it seemed easy. I knew how to write; all I had to do was write without technology. I realize now that everything I have taken for granted from my computer to the pointed stick I used came from technological advances. As I stare at my computer screen I can’t help look at my desk and see everything that I had used freely before in a different light. I’m typing on my computer, while listening to my .mp3 player. On my desk are my cellular phone, a printer, scissors, highlighters, gel pens, and even a few simple yellow pencils. All of which require technology in various amounts to produce and to use.
When initiating this project I had intended on engraving something prophetic on my surface but when time no longer permitted me to be creative I scratched the annoyance I was feeling with this task. Even letters became rigid carvings instead of the smooth curves I had initially indented. The writing tool that I used, however, played an equal a part as my frustration in the appearance of the lettering. Is it not easier to write with a gel tipped pen than a sharpened stick or rock? Writing instruments, materials, and surfaces, when first invented, had to be extensively prepared for the tedious process of writing to even begin. “Paints and inks had to be hand made, and writing surfaces like clay tablets, wax tablets [, flour paste on bark], and papyrus had to be laboriously prepared.” Because of this, writing remained exclusive to most people until writing technologies were made cheaper and less laborious (Baron 40-1).
It took 3 hours to write my ten words. I couldn’t help notice that it would take me under a minute to type, space, edit, spell check, and print the same ten words on my computer. If all my writing had to be done in the carving fashion of my ‘technology’ I doubt I would bother doing them simply because they would require too much time and effort. As a society we have become lazy in regards to our written communications. Many people would not think to hand write a letter and use a stamp when they have email capabilities. This project has changed my outlook on the use of technology, but if only by making me appreciate it more. I can’t see myself composing a paper without the use of my reliable computer. Technology is created to be used and I intend to continue using it.
Tribble, Evelyn B., Anne Trubek, ed. Writing Material: Readings from Plato to the Digital Age. New York: Longman. 2003.
Baron, Dennis, “From Pencils to Pixels: The Stages of Literacy Technologies.” Tribble & Trubek 35 - 53.
Ong, Walter. “Writing Is a Technology that Restructures Thought.” Tribble & Trubek 315 - 337.