A Better Pencil is a constant reminder of the crucial fact that throughout history, each new medium of communication and writing has been doomed to severe resentments before conquering the world. Dennis Baron takes us to funnily specific moments in past when printing, telegraph, even telephone and computer were opposed by certain groups or individuals. He assures us that there is nothing new in the nature of contemporary doubts about the revolutionary technological changes, as human being has “greeted each new writing technology with renewed suspicion” (13). Therefore, nothing is new under the sun, specifically the experience of facing something new, no matter how apocalyptic it might seem.
Baron’s thorough investigation depicts digital world as a new medium for writing coming after all previous mediums and like the other ones neither ignorable nor stoppable. However, I believe -and Baron’s examples strengthen my belief- that this new medium is not just a new container for the same old material which was used to be called writing. What we call writing in digital world is not really writing in its historical sense although it might apparently bear the same linguistic codes. Digital writing is a fragmentary genre recording the world’s stream of consciousness in a globally accessible virtual space. The fact that “on the Internet everybody’s an author, every scrap of prose a publication” (157) to me does not really mean that everybody suddenly becomes an author. I would say everybody is capable of expressing her/his personal views through words and recording them in a shared space to be heard or read randomly.
It is tantalizing to think that “we have all become Prousts externalizing our thoughts” (9), but what would be the place of Proust himself in the digital world with digital readers? How could this new medium shelter a work like À la recherche du temps perdu when each potential reader who is expectedly browsing several websites and blogs simultaneously would spend few seconds on few words of one page before jumping into the infinity of all other available offers. When a fragmentary reading of fragmentary writings becomes the habit of mind, it is not only the medium but also the nature of writing which is being radically transfigured.
The world is thinking aloud, commenting aloud, and reacting instantly to almost everything through the global dialogue of endless pages, users, and entries which are minuscule components of a giant fragmentary being. This fragmentation might be a natural offspring of the postmodern era. The children of digital age might be quick and smart enough to feed themselves by fragments and make a whole out of it. However, when everybody tends to play the active author, who would remain patient enough to play the reader?