Word Processors and Hypertext

To write – letter by letter, word by word, meaning expands as words are threaded together. These words are threaded into an ensemble of phrases, sentences, and paragraphs, which culminates into a piece of literary art. Writing can have many different characteristics, it can inform, argue, express, etc. It all begins with the process of writing, letter by letter. Pen and paper has been a means of writing in the past, as well as, the present day. However, in the past writing was also done on a typewriter. Nowadays, typewriters have been replaced; writing is done via a keyboard attached to a computer. As Bolter (2001) states “a writer working with a word processor spends much of her time entering words letter by letter, just as she did two decades ago at the typewriter” (p. 29). In a way we have not veered too far from what we once knew. We use the same technique, when referring to the physical manner of pressing keys to produce letters on our computers today, as we did with typewriters. On the contrary, the process that takes place after the letters have been placed on a page differs greatly.

As we are all aware, “with a word processor, writers can delete or replace an entire word; they can highlight phrases, sentences, or paragraphs. They can erase a sentence with a single keystroke; they can select a paragraph, cut it from its current location, and insert it elsewhere, even into another document” (Bolter, 2001, p. 29). It is extremely easy to manipulate the text we have written as a direct result of using a word processor for writing. Bolter (2001) acknowledges that “in using these facilities, the writer is thinking and writing in terms of verbal units or topics, whose meaning transcends their constituent words” (Bolter, 2001, p. 29). I would argue that writing through a word processor is faster, easier and more efficient. When one has had enough practice and is comfortable with typing, it becomes a faster means of getting thoughts on paper. When writing with a pen, it is difficult to get our thoughts, which are flowing at a rapid rate, on paper efficiently. If we do get all our thoughts on paper, our penmanship is usually quite hard to decipher because we were rushing to keep up with our thoughts. With a word processor, when typing, even if we make mistakes, which we are usually aware of, we know we can easily go back to correct, edit, and reformat them. Heim (1987) also states that the “symbolization of writing exteriorizes thought, first through manual, external manipulation of phonetic symbols (writing), then through mechanical symbol manipulation (printing and typewriting), and finally through a superior kind of automated manipulation on computers…[in effect] more control can be exercised over the manipulation of thought as it becomes externalized” (p. 2-3). I truly believe writing using a word processor allows for a better transition of our thoughts to the written word. If our thoughts change in the process of our writing, we can type them out, press enter and use those thoughts at a later time. The word processor has allowed us to fully realize our thoughts as they come to our minds. In addition, easily allowing us to modify them, something I would argue many avoid doing when writing with a pen and paper.

Having the ability to now link information within ones writing through hypertext has further changed the way we write and read. “Hypertext depends on the computer’s capacity to designate any unit of text as a new element in an expanding vocabulary of signs. The writer of a hypertext indicates these signs by defining a link (anchor on the World Wide Web) from one element to another” (Bolter, 2001, p. 37). And so, how we read an article or a paper in the present day has shifted. We no longer look at static words on a page. There are now connections to be made, and information to follow in order to fully appreciate the article or paper we are reading. “The reader comes to understand the sentence by following the link…If the reader chooses to follow the link, she expects that the second page will comment on, elaborate, or explain the first.” (Bolter, 2001, p.37). It is as though we are traveling through our reading. George Landow (1989) uses the analogy of travel in Bolter’s (2001) chapter three. I think that Landow (1989) makes a good connection between travel and hypertext. Clicking on a hypertext takes us to a new destination, one we thought we wouldn’t have the chance to visit or explore, or perhaps didn’t even know existed. We get on board at the very beginning, having a good idea what we will read. However, no matter how prepared when traveling there is always something we don’t expect to see or hear. Or, it may even be completely different than we have envisioned. And so, we explore some more and learn some more. Our writing has evolved over the years due to the utilization of word processors and hypertext. We must embrace the evolution of writing, as it is allowing us to fully embrace our thoughts and put them on paper.

References:

Bolter, J. D. (2001). Writing Space: Computers, Hypertext, and the Remediation of Print (2nd ed.). Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.

Heim, M. (1987). Electric language: A philosophical study of word processing. New Haven: Yale University Press.

Landow, G. P. (1989). Hypertext in literary education, criticism, and scholarship. Computers and the Humanities, 23, 173-198.

This entry was posted in Commentary 2. Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply