The Changing Spaces of Reading and Writing

Thinking, writing and everything in between…

“Without writing, words as such have no visual presence (…). They are sounds” (Ong, 2008, pg. 31).

       Humans have forever experimented with and longed for different ways and methods to simplify life and daily processes; whether it is cleaning clothes, cooking, bathing, transporting items from one place to another, etc. Many of these efforts have accidentally or unintentionally resulted in impressive technological devices and processes. In my opinion, the (now) necessary technology we call writing, was created this way.

       Ong (2008) believes the first writing efforts began as a way to aid memory through the elaboration of lists or tallies; I believe writing began as a transmission of needs, thoughts and ideas which later became more structured and organized, giving way to general rules (grammar) and guidelines of how things should be written (spelling) and organized (syntax). The introduction and implementation of writing has had different effects on human thought processes. Ong (2008) affirms writing structures the literate mind, its oral processes and human consciousness.

       Writing is a complex dynamic mental and physical procedure which allows humans to develop more complex thought processes and it involves thinking, feeling and sometimes talking (Beck, & Fetherston, 2003). With writing, humans are allowed (and somewhat forced) to discover new and alternative vocabulary or ways of transmitting a message effectively. The writing process allows the writer to become separated from whatever he is writing about (Havelick, 1963 as referenced by Ong 2008); it truly allows the author to experience a deep reflection process as a result of reviewing what he wrote and how he wrote the message. This process allows thoughts to become “timeless”, context-free symbols that portray a message; there is no need for body language or contextual cues. Writing allows the author to “develop codes in a language different from oral codes used in the same language” (Ong, pg. 104).

       Although there are many advantages and positive aspects to the writing process, there are also “downsides” or strains that writing causes, especially on the authors. Writing sometimes brings our train of thought to a halt (writer’s block) because of the rules and guidelines we must follow to successfully and effectively deliver the message. We become so worried about the correct wording, grammatical structure and syntax; we sometimes forget to re-focus on the main topic or message to convey. On the other hand, this technology has allowed writers to “transport” readers to unknown places by using rich, descriptive text similar to the language used in oral cultures to tell stories and share reflective messages.

       Plato suggested writing destroys memory (Ong, 2008, pg. 78) and viewed the process as inhuman, yet paradoxically wrote his ideas to object on the process. In support to Plato’s idea and expanding a bit on the concept of memory, I do consider writing destroys memory; if we consider memory as the capacity to store short-term information only. Writing has facilitated the use of lists or tallies; our brain does not store “irrelevant” information when we can download it unto a piece of paper for later consultation. With the inclusion of writing to our lives, our brain is allowed to work on other more elaborate and complex processes, such as deeper analysis and comprehension of a specific topic; modification or composition of theories or statements. According to Benjamin Bloom (1956), the previous require higher order thinking skills, or the integration of various “simple” skills to develop the more complex abilities.

       Writing as a technology has changed the way humans think, express feelings and learn. The educational process has, as a result, changed dramatically, giving room for diverse activities in which the teacher isn’t always the one with all of the information; students are allowed and encouraged to look for information, question the validity and reliability of the sources and discuss their opinions on a specific topic.

       Along with great technology and resources, comes a greater responsibility of humankind to use these resources responsibly; we are now seeing a greater gap among literate and non-literate (oral) people. Nowadays, access to information in certain communities is practically impossible, impeding the democratization of technology, writing and information; while on other parts of the globe, new technological media (Wikis Blogs, etc.) facilitates and encourages the distribution and contribution of information. As always, humans have found alternative ways to distribute information and encourage writing as a skill and as a technology. A clear example is this class and this media chosen to deliver course content.

       As part of a literate culture, we must consider the implications of the differences between oral and literate cultures in the educational process and the integration of technological media to this very important mix. The writing process, as we now know it, must be an integrative, flexible process that adapts to the needs and context of the reader and writer.



Beck, N., & Fetherston, T, (2003). The effects of incorporating a word processor into a year three writing program. Information Technology in Childhood Education Annual, 139-161.  

Bloom, B.S. (Ed.), Engelhart, M.D., Furst, E.J., Hill, W.H., & Krathwohl, D.R. (1956). Taxonomy of educational objectives: Handbook I: Cognitive domain. New York: David McKay.

Ong, W. (2008) Orality and Literacy. The technologizing of the word. Routledge, USA-Canada

1 comment

1 Clare Roche { 11.28.09 at 6:53 pm }

As literacy becomes more digital I think teachers have to be aware of how important critical thinking skills will be for students.

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