The Writing Space
In theory, the writing space is an abstract concept which starts with the inner workings of a creator’s mind, is followed by the act of expressing those thoughts onto a material to be viewed by others, and ends with the resulting physical artifact. Technologies, defined as both tools and techniques, are rapidly discovered, adopted, adapted and changed which places the writing space in a continuous state of flux. As a direct result, the materials creators use to document their ideas are ever evolving. The one constant in the world of communication, whether oral or written, is where end text product originates from. Ideas are born from the mind, the strongest and most imperative tool in an author’s arsenal.
A Material World
Technology, including both the tools and the techniques used to create written text, has an indelible impact on developing literacy. A quote from Christina Haas’ Writing Technology: Studies on the Materiality of Literacy appears in Bolter’s Writing Space: “Writing is situated in the material world in a number of ways. It always occurs in a material setting, employs material tools, and results in material artifacts” (Haas, p. 4). In this vein, it is impossible to separate the material world from text, from the semantics of creation to the artifacts that result. How we discover, adapt, and utilize materials to create and leave those legacies is where change and evolution lie within the world of literacy. Digital natives, or those who have spent the entirety of their lives surrounded by digital technology, will inevitably feel more comfortable utilizing material tools such as mobiles and touchscreens to both create and process text than perhaps those who grew up using pen and paper or sketchpads. The ease with which digital natives create and edit media has led to a rise in internet blogging and sharing sites such as tumblr and reddit where a population of increasingly younger users create and share both original and transformative texts with an international audience.
Bolter talks of remediation, or the process of a newer medium taking the place of an older one, imitating in a form of homage whilst simultaneously rivaling it by making claims to improve upon what already exists. (Bolter, p. 23) An example of material adaptation partaining to media text that I encounter often is the case of the digital camera. Students who have grown up only knowing of the existence of the digital camera will often ask to see a photo immediately after it has been taken on the camera’s digital screen. There is no way to know if children being painted by a Renaissance master would have dared to leave their poses to run over to view a canvas, but it is arguable that a child’s curiosity is inherent. Undoubtedly somewhere in the 1970s, a child accidentally opened a camera to unsuccessfully peek at an image on the film after their photo was taken, ruining the film as a result. The advancement of the materials in this case does not change the art of capturing an image itself but rather the means to produce, view, and utilize it further.
How we view the written word today is certainly adapting and changing at an increasingly rapid rate. Readers take an active role in determining properties of writing space by placing certain demands on the text and on the technology. (Bolter, p. 12) Developing cultures throughout history designed how viewers would process information based upon their own wants and needs, from continuous scrolls which were adapted to contain columns, to illuminated pages bound in volumes and eventually mass produced by presses.
Electronic mediums, such as blogs, offer a variety of layout choices in addition to endless visual choice possibilities in the form of fonts, colours, imagery, and hypermedia. If feedback is overwhelmingly negative, an author can adapt and change these choices to fit the needs of their readers, often with the advantage of immediacy. Changes can be processed and made live often with simple coding or even a few clicks of the mouse. Authors can vary greatly in age and experience due to the range of simplicity in publishing software.
Quality Versus Quantity
In the exploration of the material, the inner process of creation is often overlooked. Some may argue that the advances in digital technology make it increasingly easier for anyone to become an artist. Others will take the opposite stance, defending the idea of inspired talent and quality of expression. Social media and internet publishing have undoubtedly made it easier to express ideas and communicate them on a much grander scale than ever before, but is viral popularity the new way to measure artistic success or is it simply a case of textual oversaturation? Evolution of the material will change the writing space as a whole, but it will also have an impact on the communication broadcast going forward.
Bolter, J.D. (2001). Writing Space. New York, NY: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.
Haas, C. (1996). Writing technology: Studies on the materiality of literacy. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.
Prensky, M. (2001). “Digital natives, digital immigrants”. On the horizon, Oct 2001, 9 (5). Lincoln: NCB University Press.