Apologies for my lateness, friends– I forgot how clunky iMovie is and it ended up taking me far longer than I expected to sort my settings out.
Essentially, my video tries to give a (very) bare-bones explanation of a paper I’m giving in a few weeks about how the Religion of the Lost Cause deviated from the Protestant values and structures of its traditional Southern heritage and moved into the territory of Catholic ritual in its efforts to remember and memorialize the dead and the cause.
While reading though A Better Pencil, I noticed that people experiencing the evolution of writing technology over time viewed it with the apprehension one might direct towards an invading army.
Subsequently, once the new technology’s purpose and uses were established, it seemed that people immediately latched onto all of the horrible things that could happen, and panic ensued.
However, Baron conveyed the sense that the objects of this skepticism have shifted over time. Socrates disliked writing because of its inability to actively dialogue, as he placed importance on direct intelligent discussion (4). He recognized the inherent need for people and their thoughts to be a variable in the equation, and thus distrusted the developments because of the ways humans could use them. Distaste for modern technology, however, seems to be directed at the technology itself, not the human minds behind it.
Which brings us to the blame game. Baron writes that computers are “blamed by skeptics for a variety of ills” (xi). Ned Ludd, if he existed, allegedly wrecked a loom because he “found the increased mechanization of the art of weaving alienating (25). Placing the responsibility for perceived societal corruption on machines completely discounts their existence as creations of humans. Technology will likely not develop sentience and the ability to create its own content without the programming or guidance of human action, yet many people seem to place suspicion and blame on the tools instead of stepping back and examining their role in its creation.
The one person in Baron’s narrative who appears to have held human beings responsible for technology and all of its effects was Ted Kaczynski. As a disclaimer, I don’t advocate for attacking people with the intention of killing or otherwise harming them. Kaczynski, even in all of his seriously misguided criminal actions, understood that it is people who further the mechanization of society, as well as use the conveniences it provides. It’s the same idea of “Guns don’t kill people; people with guns kill people.” Cell phones don’t kill people, drivers using cell phones kill people. By targeting the progenitors and inventors of the things he so hated, Kaczynski demonstrated a twisted understanding of the ways in which people interact with new technologies.
As humanity explores new avenues for writing technology, we will be called, as Wesch notes, to redefine and reexamine what it means to interact with technologies. Certain factions will continue to blame advances in language studies and composition tools for the destruction of civilization, and the trust and blame that we associate with the written word in all its forms will undoubtedly be the subject of further debate and revision for many years to come. Hopefully, though, future critics will not forget the role that human innovation plays in advancing these tools.
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: