The Changing Spaces of Reading and Writing

Remixing Writing


The emergence of digital technologies challenges the traditional perception of writing as the inscription of characters (alphanumeric representation of ideas) onto a tangible medium. Changing storage media demands the incorporation of new definitions of writing to include non-tangible medium. In an era where many creators bypass traditional “hard media” in favour of electronic storage devices, what is “written” may in fact never involve “writing”. The detachment of the author from a work enabled the proliferation of a multitude of ideas;  as Walter Ong states “writing establishes…autonomous discourse which cannot be directly contested or questioned” (Ong, p.77). While individuals can access multiple writings, the static format of traditional codex inhibits interactions with the text. Jay Bolter states “digital media are refashioning the printed book” (Bolter, p 3). Nowhere is this more evident than the multiple projects of compiling a universal library on the World Wide Web. While there are many who oppose the digitization of the printed page, the benefits are discernible and imaginable.

Universal Literacy

The goal of literacy programs is for the reader to make connections (text to self, text to text and text to world) with any given texts (Keene and Zimmerman, 1997). The concept of a universal library and the magnitude of text distributions/manipulations possible by the World Wide Web revolutionize traditional views of literacy.

In his article “Scan This Book”, Kevin Kelly depicts writing, bound as codex, as existing as an island; isolated from other texts. Similar to Ong’s perception that writing is the interiorization of thought, the separation of the word from the living present, Kelly states:  “Its only movement comes when a reader picks it up to animate it with his or her imagination” (Kelly p. 3).  The digitization of writings affords the reader the opportunity to easily connect to the world as well as other texts through the means of hyperlinks. Kelly presents the idea of a user-driven “library”; one where the writing in books can be “crosslinked, clustered, cited, extracted, indexed, analyzed, annotated, remixed, reassembled and woven deeper into the culture…every page reads all the other pages..” (Kelly, p  4). Readers will be able to personalize their literary experience further by the addition of tags “a public annotation, like a keyword or category name, that is hung on a file, page, picture or song, enabling anyone to search for that file” (Kelly p 4). Thus the text of the book or writing will no longer be separate from that of any other work. The deep links will allow users to traverse the “pages” of a book following link upon link ad infinitum. Additionally, readers will be able to “create” books from pertinent snippets from the abundance of information available on virtually every topic. Resonant of Ong’s description of oral societies  that are empathetic and participatory rather than objectively distanced   (Ong, p 45), Kelly proclaims “when books are digitized, reading becomes a community activity” (Kelly, p5).  The shared annotations, hyperlinks, tags, etc. become fodder for interactions which transcend time and space.  This is truly the conceptualization of “text to self, text to text and text to world” connections in a format heretofore unimagined, the remix into reordered books.

It is interesting to note that while the medium is new, the concept of the personalization of the reading/writing experience is not.  One has only to look at perhaps the oldest known medicinal works. De Materia Medica authored by Dioscordes was produced about 512 AD in its oldest and most famous form, an illustrated Byzantine manuscript.  The Anicia codex version of the work was amended, rearranged and annotated as it passed through the hands of various owners, (Discordes, n.p.) similar to Kelly’s vision of the annotations of digital book pages. “From this deep structuring of knowledge comes a new culture of interaction and participation” (Kelly p. 6). Different perhaps, but not new.  The difference will be in the dynamic interaction of ideas, not limited by constraints of time and space as were the static interactions visible in archaic documents.

“Once a technology is admitted, it plays out its hand; it does what it is designed to do” (Postman, p7). Efforts to resist technological innovations are futile; (think Luddites) a better course of action is to embrace technological innovations and harness them.


Bolter, J. D. (2001). Writing space computers, hypertext, and the remediation of print. Mahwah, N.J: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.

Dioscorides: Materia Medica. (n.d.). Retrieved September 30, 2009, from

Keene, E. O. and Suzanne Zimmerman. (1997). Mosaic of thought teaching comprehension in a reader’s workshop. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.

Kelly, K. (2006, May 14). Scan This Book. New York Times. Retrieved September 30, 2009, from

Ong, Walter, J. (1982). Orality and Literacy: The Technologizing of the Word. London and New York: Methuen.

Postman, N. (1992). Technopoly: The surrender of culture to technology. New York: Vintage Books.

1 comment

1 Clare Roche { 11.28.09 at 7:32 pm }

I would suggest that teachers should also be selective about the tools that they use in the classroom.

You must log in to post a comment.