Creating a New Writing Technology

Creating a New Writing Technology

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Creating a New Writing Technology


"Writing, in the strict sense of the word, as has already been seen, was a very late development in human history. The first script, or true writing, that we know was developed among the Sumerians in Mesopotamia only around the year 3500 BC, less than 6,000 years ago. The alphabet, which was invented only once, so that every alphabet in the world derives directly or indirectly from the original Semitic alphabet, came into existence only around 1500 BC" (Ong, 323).

Writing has been around for a short time, but language has been around for as long as humans. It's amazing to see how much the written word controls our lives. You can't do anything; go anywhere, without seeing some form of print. You turn on the television-an add pops up. You go outside-signs everywhere. And what is even more amazing, constantly, new technologies are evolving to improve the way we write-computers, the pencil with an attached eraser.

Because of the importance placed on writing and writing technology in today's society I have decided to conduct an experiment. What happens when the "technology" is taken out of the writing? I will attempt to create a new writing technology, with primitive objects, and use it to write a short, twenty word, text.

While conducting this new experiment, a couple of issues posed problems. First, I could only use materials found in nature. This was difficult because of the rarity of "natural" items in this day-and-age.

Second, I had to keep in mind the permanence of my project-how long the text I created could be expected to last. It was somewhat difficult to do this because a particularly creative and natural "invention" might not be all that permanent, and vice-versa. With these creating problems for me, I didn't find the inventing process easy. I tested a variety of objects. Such as food, grass, dirt, leaves, and mud.

The food was too messy, and it didn't last that long. I gathered several items from my kitchen, and decided to experiment. I tried a banana peel, but it ripped easily, and turned completely brown within minutes. I soon exhausted ideas to use other foods, such as apples-they go bad too quickly. Nuts-too fragile; and cheese-not "natural" enough. From these experiments, I concluded that food items would not make good writing technologies.

Grass seemed, at first to be an excellent idea.

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I planned to gather some fresh cut grass, and rub about twenty words or so onto a surface. I knew that grass was capable of staining some objects, and I thought it might be interesting to put grass' staining powers to use. The problem was-what type of surface would I use? I couldn't use cloth or paper, because I hadn't manufactured them myself. I tried rubbing the grass onto bard, but the marks it made were completely illegible. Then I tried clumping the grass into letter shapes on the ground, but the wind, blew all of my hard work away. Finally, I decided that grass would not make a good writing instrument.

I tried drawing letters in the dirt in front of my apartment, but I realized writing in the dirt, as a means of communication wouldn't be practical. You couldn't write anything of importance, such as a bill, or a last will in testament, because as soon as it rained all of your writing would be washed away.

Next, I experimented with leaves. I gathered some leaves from outside my apartment. I tried writing on them, first with sticks, then with rocks; but the drier ones would either rip apart or crumble, and the fresher ones were too illegible. I decided leaves would not make a good writing technology.

Because of my nearly successful experience with dirt, I attempted a variation-mud. I gathered some mud from outside my apartment building, and I attempted to write in it with a stick. But the mud was too unstable, and quickly lost the shape of the letters. Then I placed the mud in the sun to dry, thinking that it would become like a clay tablet, easy and enjoyable to write on. It wasn't. It crumbled in the sun, and completely broke apart when I tried to write on it. Also, I experienced many of the same unpleasantness that I had during my previous dirt experiment. Needless to say, mud would not make a good writing tool.

In the end, I decided on two items with which I would base my invention-a stick and a rock. I had used both items in previous experiments, but each time, they were writing utensils, and not writing surfaces. I first tried to use the rock to scratch letters directly onto the stick's surface. This didn't work, because the bark of the stick would rip as soon as the rock pierced it. So, I decided to peel the bark off of the stick and write directly onto the wood, but it was too time consuming.

I then decided to try the bark. I began to write my short paragraph, and the letters showed up beautifully. Thus, a new writing technology was born.

It's laborious-you have to peel the bark from a tree branch or stick. And you have to use the right amount of pressure, with a sharp rock, to produce the writing. But it has permanance. You don't have to worry about the bark rotting too quickly or blowing away.

Of all of the other objects I experimented with, bark and a rock were by far the most practical and convenient. They were fairly easy to manipulate, and they can be found virtually anywhere. Therefore, through the efforts of my experiment, I have invented the new technology of using a rock to scratch letters into a piece of bark. From the beginning of our collective memory humans have been adapting our immediate surroundings to benefit ourselves. How is writing any different? The written word is one of the major tools humans use to express ourselves. "Like other artificial creations and indeed more than any other, writing is utterly invaluable and indeed essential for the realization of fuller, interior, human potentials" (Ong, 322). Of all the inventions in the world, writing and its cousin, language, is probably the most useful. There were many people who opposed the written word when it was first developed. As intelligent as Plato was he, "spoke out strongly against writing, fearing it would weaken our memories" (Baron, 39). And yet, most people of today couldn't get by without using some form of written communication. As Walter Ong states, "As a time-obviating, context-free mechanism, writing separates the known form the knower more definitely than the original orally grounded maneuver of naming does, but it also unites the knower and the known more consciously and more articulately" (Ong, 334). As humans we have a need to communicate with others and we delight in others communicating with us. Writing of any form enables us to do this with ease.

In conclusion, there are a couple of things that can be learned from this experience. One, writing itself is an invaluable technology. Without it we would be at a loss. And second, the creation of new, useful, technology to improve on what we already have is easier said than done.

Works Cited

Baron, Dennis. "From Pencils to Pixels." Writing Material: Readings from Plato to the Digital Age. Ed. Evelyn B. Tribble and Anne Trubek. New York: Longman. 2003.

Ong, Walter. "Writing Is a Technology that Restructures Thought." Writing Material: Readings from Plato to the Digital Age. Ed. Evelyn B. Tribble and Anne Trubek. New York: Longman. 2003.

Plato. "Phaedrus." Writing Material: Readings from Plato to the Digital Age. Ed. Evelyn B. Tribble and Anne Trubek. New York: Longman. 2003.
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