The Changing Spaces of Reading and Writing

Commentary # 2 : Curiosity Killed the Cat !


Bolter in his book explains about devices of navigation and orientation throughout the history of writing, from the evolution of hypermedia (from ancient oral poetry) to how it is informed by critical theory and shapes writing. He considers writing spaces as spaces that include both written products and types of written production, including illuminated texts, printed books, web pages, typewriters, and word processors. He analyzes changing nature of print, and of writing spaces as they become more visual even in electronic writing, digital writing, hypertext and hypermedia. He considers that, text becomes a textual aid that brings order and unity to the images. According to Bolter hypermedia can be regarded as a kind of picture writing, which refashions the qualities of both traditional picture writing and phonetic writing (p. 58).

However, through those chapters that I have read till now, I feel a soft deterministic way of approaching to technology by Bolter. Although throughout the book and even at the preface, he tries to explain about it, but from time to time, a continuing of Ong’s technological determinism (that was discussed previously in “From Orality to Literacy”) can also be traced in Writing Space.

In general, Bolter believes that the technical and cultural aspects of writing are so closely tied together that it is impossible to separate them and they both combined the technology. He sees technology and culture as two things that influence and create each other. Bolter does not reject the benefits and advantages that technology provides, but reminds that users share equal responsibility for the achievements. In this way, he tries to distance from technological determinism.

My curiosity to find possible influences  of Ong and others on Bolter’s soft determinism, led me to search for the refernces of Writing Space at the end of the book. I was surprized when I found chapter 11, “The Web Site” just before the references. It was only one page. In that chapter, Bolter explains that a Web site, is often to provide ancillary material that the book omitted due to limitations of space or the limitations of the printed medium itself. Perhaps the main reason for having a Web site is simply to extend the reach of the text, to establish a colony in the new territory of cyberspace (p. 214). The URL address of the associated Web site of Bolter’s book is

I was so curious to have a look at it and find what Bolter considers as an extension, and a remediation, of the printed text, containing additional information, corrections, and improvements. As Bolter says “It (Web site) also remediates the printed text by making a modest claim to interactivity, in the sense that visitors to the site can register comments and criticisms, which will be recorded and made available to subsequent visitors”. However the link didn’t work. I tried it again and again but I faced with the same message, “The requested URL was not found on this server”. I searched for the server and found it to be located in Georgia Institute of Technology. Bolter’s academic homepage  is also available in that server and it works!

It was surprising for me that a writer be aware of reading his book by students in different universities and is reluctant to update the web address of his book, especially when considering web technologies as a remediation of printed text. I continued my search to find the original URL address that aimed to associate Bolter’s book. However, during my search, I was surprised by an article in Computers and Composition Journal in 2002, a year after the print of the new version of the book. In that article Barton, from the University of South Florida, stated that “the web site advertised in his (Bolter’s) last chapter was not functional at the time of this writing”. According to his harsh criticism “Perhaps this could be a reason for so many scholars preferring print. Another reason for this preference might be to achieve the notoriety that scholars like Bolter acquire when they publish books! If Bolter had produced a web page instead of a book, would I be reviewing him now in a scholarly (print) journal? I wish that Bolter had addressed these perplexing ironies” (Barton, 2002). However, I agree with Barton that such ironies can not reduce the effectiveness of Bolter’s Writing Space.

Now, in spite of Bolter’s emphasize on the dynamic and heterogeneous visual experience that the Web offers, I feel that the link of the book’s Web site has never worked for all of these years. I could imagine that by adding a website for his book, Bolter would critically analyze and show the changing structure of writing spaces by looking at the evolution of writing and spaces of writing. Bolter’s use of Web, as technology that promises the future, was a big disappointment for me.

In the recent years due to dynamic characteristic of Web, maybe Bolter has felt that it is not still necessary to defend the idea of electronic writing in practice, in the form of a Web site, as significant, since it is no longer the case. Today’s culture is far more wired and open to Web and Web-based communication that it probably be more important to try to understand the importance of Web as new writing technology in teaching and learning.

Let me finish up here with a beautiful saying from Rumi, written 800 years ago.

“Either exist as you are, or be as you look”


Barton, M. D. (2002). Book review, Computers and Composition, (2002). 499–502.

Bolter, D. J. (2001).Writing Space Computers, Hypertext, and the Remediation of Print. New Jersey: Lawrence Erlbalm Associates.


1 Lindsey Martin { 11.16.09 at 11:56 am }

You have quite an interesting paper! I really enjoyed that you included an image with your response. The course has shown that we are moving towards a more visual outlook on knowledge and writing/literacy. I like how you incorporated that into your work. As well, the link also follows with the course as we learn that hyperlinking is becoming the new form for educational works. I think your response reflects the direction we are heading with formal, eloquent papers that include both visual/technological aspects.
Good work!

2 Bev { 11.23.09 at 11:50 pm }

This was an interesting read Hosein. I am trying to figure out how your caption fits with your essay- your metaphor. Are you the cat? This paper has a great little ironical twist to it. I enjoyed reading it.

3 Clare Roche { 11.29.09 at 8:36 am }

I agree with you Hosein, as educators,we have to analyse what elements of digital writing we should use in our classroom and how.

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