Bolter (2001) introduces his book “Writing space: computers, hypertext, and the remediation of print” by describing our current time as the late age of print. He analyzes the history of writing leading up to today. Bolter also discusses writing as a technology and that technology as a driving force and as a result of the culture around it. He further discusses writing in the form of hypertext and the implications of electronic writing. Here I will further examine writing as a technology as this inevitable result of culture and at the same time as the factor that changes culture. How does cultural changes determine the direction that writing technology will take. And is the development of new writing technology changing our culture?
We are at the end of the age of print where books are replaced by digitized versions and where prose is replaced by graphics (Bolter, 2001). There are disadvantages to digital print but the advantages appear to drive the change toward the more favourable digital version. Just as codex replaced scroll, and print replaced codex. The change will take time, as did its predecessors. But we see its progress in classroom textbooks. Digitized books promises prompt updates, more flexibility, protection against wear and tear and is often more budget-friendly. Given hardware availability, it solves many textbook problems schools face. Not to mention saving paper. Access to digital text is more immediate and often less costly. It could be argued that printed text has more authority but with more information and guidelines we make decisions on credibility. It is indeed difficult to argue the appeal of multi-sensory digital reality that is replacing the print we are used to.
Writing as a technology both drives culture and is a result of culture. There are arguments both for writing technology as an external force that changes culture and that technology is not an outside force and therefore does not drive culture. Technology is defined as both the skill and the machines used to produce it (Bolter, 2001). The relationship between the two is definitely not as clear-cut as either side of the debate makes it appear. Writing technology is changing as culture demands more rapid and accessible forms of communication and as need for more visual and manipulative medium. This in turn changes culture because writing is often no longer an individual task. Multiple authors and voices are possible. We are losing the aesthetic expression that writing technology in the past allowed for. Children do not learn cursive writing in elementary schools as they used to. If the culture does not place such value on print technology of the past then it could easily be lost. If the mystery of the printed text and the authority of the text are lost then digital writing space will rapidly take over.
Bolter analyzes hypertext as writing in multiple layers, where each reader can determine the path they take as opposed to reading print, which is a linear experience; we don’t experience the web as we do a printed book. In this sense, hypertext is a much more logical reflection of how our brain functions. In learning, we promote questioning and making connections and digitized texts supports this natural branching and linking of information. We used to use technology to write down thoughts before they slip from our mind. But now our use of technology has changed. The large amount of information is now stored outside of our mind and we could access it readily. The need isn’t in memorizing this information but in synthesizing this information for your own meaning. Hypertext is naturally more suited for encouraging non-linear thought processes.
Bolter’s first three chapters in “Writing space: computers, hypertext, and the remediation of print” places us in the transition period from the age of print to the age of digitized writing. He debates the possibility of digital writing completely replacing the printed form. Printed books certainly seems to loose some of its authority as fewer people are accessing them. Writing reflects the way we structure speech. However what does this mean as writing is changing. We write in units, not word by word. This form of writing is no longer just an extension of the spoken language (Bolter, 2001). Writing as a technology coexists with culture and are inseparable from each other. The complex nature of this relationship makes the future of print and digital writing difficult to predict.