Tag Archives: cultural practices

A Little Preemptive Digital Archaeology

Asimov Type Faster

I may have odd digital writerly habits. For instance, the text you are reading right now was composed in the Windows 7 version of Notepad, the almost-totally-formatting-free, ASCII-based text editor. While I look at MSWord the way many people look at a sibling, whenever I compose for web-based reading I compose in Notepad. I’ve been poking around on writing on the internet since the early 1990s, and I still can’t beat the (apparently justified) feeling that someway, somehow, if I type this in Word and then copy-paste to the webpage, it will find a way to become ugly.

While reading Baron, I couldn’t help but notice he, and many of the writers he refers to, have similar strange or archaic digital habits. I might be born-digital-and-maladjusted, though, since I started writing not with a PC but with an already-outdated IBM Selectric III (see 79), had a plastic toy manual typewriter which jammed constantly, handwrote my first publishable stories, and continue to handwrite notes for classes in a leatherbound quarto notebook.

I also had intense brand loyalty to pens and certain pencils for creative writing, and kept and archived pens exhausted in my fiction-making, complete with the date of final drying-out and what project they served on. Until, at least, I moved on to just using MSWord.


But, contrary to Baron’s example (51), am nearly as particular about my keyboard as I am my pens–I’ve disqualified laptop purchasing options on the closeness or space between their keys, and once had to mail order the last remaining of a specific model of keyboard from a forgotten office supply warehouse in Texas. And I still remember the feel of the slightly concave, chocolate-colored keys of the Selectric.

What this makes me thing about is how many of us bring archaic practices to digital writing, and how we might begin to separate the archaic from the necessary in order to see what it is that digital media are actually making us do. I’m sure, for instance, that avid science fiction writer and gonzo futurist Charles Stross could probably find a better way to distribute his copyleft drafts than as .rtf documents, and that I could find a better composing medium than a program which, in essence, imitates a console interface. Certain digital habits have mostly fallen by the wayside–like Baron’s “handwriting fonts” (66) and fiddling with different fonts in email and papers (83), both of which are now strangely nostalgic enterprises that usually indicate that someone is new to digital composition and just basking in the endless stylistic possibility. Meanwhile, other incredibly frustrating old practices remain–the insurance industry, for example, still depends on faxing, which elicits the following reaction from anyone new to that industry:

This is Alan Rickman flipping a table. Your eyes do not deceive you.
My boss learned quickly not to mention the faxosaurus by name.

Certainly, there are countless complex forces determining which (sometimes frankly unnecessary) things we often bring to digital composition from its predecessors–the lack of white background was, according to Baron, a major obstacle for the popularity of early word processing software (105)–but we have to wonder what sort of impact these alien-to-computers techniques and technae will have on the future of digital writing. How long will it be before nobody knows what the “save” icon means? How long before people stop seeing the computer as “a better pencil?” What weird writing customs and cultural practices are we going to leave them with because we hold on to things that look like paper?

(because for all my technological savvy, I can’t get my wordpress username changed)