When clicked open the first page of A Better Pencil, I was planning to be thrown into a tedious mourning of the loss of the old, a repetitive nostalgia to “the good old days”—writing with pencils, and a stern criticism to any new technology without which our millennial’s heart can’t make a single beat. But, and here’s a big but, Baron did not come across such a terrible bore. He opens the discussion by dodging through all of my negative expectations with fascinating history debates on the danger of writing. From Plato’s Phaedrus, the invention of printing press, the telegraph, telephone, typewriters, to personal computer, word processors, webpages, blogs, and now social-networking sites, he identifies the usual pattern: we stare at each new technology in deep distrust, greeting them with dire warnings, but in time from accepting, adapting to relying on, new advances eventually integrated in our lives.
My mind flashed back to Mark Helprin’s book Digital Barbarism when Baron said we have a “common tendency to romanticize the good old days” often fail to appreciate how new technology can benefit society and themselves. While Helprin notes that Internet is a “waste”, blogs are “sub literate” and Wikipedia are written in the way “Popeye” speaks (107), Baron sews his argument with the metaphorical device “Pencil” that many in the field of composition have over-reacted to the roles of technology and writing, and in fact that writing has never ceased to be technology. Writing starts with a simple pencil while new media and Internet is just another pencil as writing tools.
However what I find hard to be convinced is that he appears to view the sweeping technology just as another form of pencil. Even though Baron grants that writing has always been technological and pencil is nothing short of creative marvel than an iPad, he does not seriously acknowledge many revolutionary features of modern digital form of writing. For one thing, comparing with erasing a pencil-written text, digital writing allows us to add, delete, edit without any trace behind. Anything writing online, from MOS (Microsoft Office Suites) to cloud sourcing blogs, notes, shared documents, can be accessed and edited by multiple audience (permission depends on individual cases) with no mark left behind. Lots of social media news groups (Reddit, Tumblr, Facebook,etc.) and Wikipedia articles offer revision and editing even after posting the article for the global to see. For another, digital writing’s auto-spelling- correction, grammar-checking functions downplays the importance of memorizing correct spelling or sentence structure. In the third place, the impact of speed and shareability of message delivery is too big to be neglected. A click on “Send”, texts will be delivered/posted in a millisecond, shared by a group of audience, from a selected community to the entire wired world, not to mention each of reader in the community could leave their individual opinions by commenting, “Like”, “Dislike”, re-tweeting, etc.
The message now rolling like a snowball through network, sticking each receiver’s ideas on its body, and ultimately casts huge influences to us larger than a tool of writing could measure up with. Text Advanture pops on top of my head as one of the most popular interactive shareable text media platforms:
In the same thread, once constricted in kindergarten classroom or bedtime, storytelling now embraces players around the world jumping in to throw creative sparks: