Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Technology and Writing

I was on the Loft Literary Center's website browsing the fall classes recently. I am considering taking a class called Mars Needs Writers. While a writing retreat on Mars would be pretty cool, the class is about writing science fiction. The teacher of the class is Lyda Morehouse and I have requested her book Archangel Protocol from the library. So soon, when I have the book, I'll dip in and see if she is someone I'd want to take a class from. During my browsing I came upon Beyond the Age of the iPod: Is Technology Changing Written Culture?. The article is notes from a keynote address at the Loft presented by Naomi Baron in April. If had been paying attention, I could have gone to what seems to have been an interesting evening. I don't know about you, but when I think of technology I tend to think of electric technology--electric typewriters, computers, etc. I don't ever think that something like a pencil could be revolutionary. But it was. Of course the big question is whether technologies like the internet and text messaging are changing the way we write, changing what we say, how we say it, changing our vocabulary? It seems obvious that this is the case, so is that a bad thing? I wonder if people worried about the same kinds of things with the pencil? Baron doesn't say it's good or bad, she only ask more questions. I've been pondering on the article since I read it. What has gotten the most thoughts directed at it is how technology has affected authors. How has the writing process changed? Has writing improved with the ability of endless revision? Maybe improved isn't right, but the ability to revise quickly and easily must have some effect. I remember what life was like BC (before computers). In high school I had to "borrow" my mother's electric typewriter to type my papers. I wrote the first draft in pencil, then scribbled all my revisions on it. Then copied it in pen. Then typed it. That was it. In college I had my own electric typewriter that had a one-line memory so I could proof the line before it printed thereby cutting down on white-out fumes. My college had a computer lab but it was always crowded and had limited hours so I never used it. Not until grad school did I get a computer. I would still write out my first draft in pencil but I would revise it as I typed it into the computer. Then I could cut and paste to my heart's content. Except I would print out my papers between drafts and mark them up then change the text in the computer. These days I still like to start writing something in pencil first. But sometimes I will just start typing. Using a pencil slows me down and makes me think. Typing directly into the computer often feels reckless because, for some reason, my thoughts go faster. I know since I have a good BC memory, my writing relationship with my computer is different than someone who came along AD (after DOS). I can imagine a similar difference in experience for authors. I wonder how a computer would have changed Virginia Woolf's writing? Would she have been excited by the possibilities of hypertext and online publication? Overall, I think technology is a benefit to writers of all stripes. Some people howl over the abundance of bad writing but there has always been an abundance of bad writing even before computers. The only thing I am concerned about is whether we are losing anything by moving our allegiance from writing on paper to writing on a screen? Sometimes I think we are giving up something, though I can't say exactly what that something is. Other times I am too dazzled by the possibilities to consider the implications. Computers are still so new, maybe I won't have any answers for another 20 or 30 years. It could be interesting.