A ‘New’ Way to Read and Write

I have been reading, lately, about writers’ relationships with computers, specifically the idea that the technology used to write (pen versus keyboard, etc.) affects what’s written. Nothing new in that discussion, but I have noticed one thing: that whilst most writers say that their work is different depending upon what it’s written with, and that therefore they prefer some modes of writing over others, there seems to be scant discussion about how this can be beneficial. A different technology, I mean, can (must?) bring a different perspective.

Take, for example, cartography: some map-makers produce ‘upside-down’ world maps, on which Australia is at the top of the page, and Europe and the USA down below. It’s the same map, with the same shapes and words and colours, but it makes us look at it differently, and we maybe see things that we mightn’t have in the conventional layout.

So why does a similar thing not happen when reading or writing on the screen? If the upside-down map challenges our assumptions by presenting something familiar in a not-so-familiar way, why does a book on screen not? Why all this jabbering about the ‘death of the book’, if the book, through computers-and-the-web (as it were), is living on in far greater diversity than ever before?!

Well (despite thinking that modern technology means that we read much shorter sentences than we did two hundred years ago), I’m rather deciding to give this whole digital delivery thing the benefit of the doubt — for a while at least. I am using things like Project Gutenberg and Wikisource to typeset books after my own designs; writing my own email client so that writing emails is first and foremost about writing (and not all this ‘organizer’ bollocks); and generally reading books on paper but writing about them on screen.

if:book: ephemera

I’m bored and tired this Monday morning, but still I flick through my blog feeds; I found this: [if:book: ephemera] from the Institute for the Future of the Book.

It’s an interesting idea: that the inconsequential, unconsidered, printed matter of the day gives ‘the future’ (the people, that is) insight into how normal lives were led. Does it? And if it does, does that mean that it’s a good idea to collect modern ephemera? (oh, incidentally: I have read in old books the word ‘ephemera’ treated as singular in number, so maybe I mean: ‘should ephemeras be collected?’…) I think I am, at heart, something of a hoarder of things — words, pictures, stories, whatever — that seem in danger of otherwise going unrecorded; I must think that there’s some value in these things…

I’m not convinced that we can actually choose what records are left for the future, however. Much extant documentation from the past was never set aside for preservation; much that was set has disappeared without trace (well, obviously not totally without trace: we know a certain library might have existed, but not what stories its books held). Isn’t this what Claudius (well, Mister Graves, anyway) said in the preface to I, Claudius? That it’d be better to leave his memoirs lying on a table somewhere, and leave their preservation to chance, than to entomb them under stone and law?

But maybe we can choose, a bit, or at least make it easier for things to survive (by not destroying them!). Leaving aside the question of why it’s worth doing, I wonder about how. They say that the internet, and computer-based documentation in general, is making the printed record of modern times sparser and maybe less meaningful than that of other times (the eighteenth century, for example). In the post I’ve linked above they ask “what provisions are we making for our own mass memory?” Some people say that computers should be used to solve the problem of things existing only on computers, which seems a little contradictory to me, but (being the geek I am) I also at times think this. So I write programs that help me order things and decide what not to keep.

Oh, then I get confused and wonder why I ever bother keeping a blog…

Sorry.

One speed: slow?

Another gap in posts for this blog; sorry. (Not that there’s anyone reading this to say sorry to, but as they say: meh.) It’s not that I haven’t been writing lately, I have, but in places that the web doesn’t reach; I’ve been enjoying that.

But it’s four-thirty on a Thursday afternoon and I’m at work. Thus, I have a) no inclination to do any work; b) a whole host of other things that I would rather be doing; and c) some stupid compulsion to remain here until five o’clock. The latter is probably due to the boss still being here.

Oh, no he’s not, he’s just left. See ya.

(This post was going to be about singlespeed bicycles, esperanto, and how good it is to not write on the web, but that can all wait. Apologies for the remaining pointlessness.)

Urban Adventure in Rotterdam

Urban Adventure in Rotterdam

Not that I’m bored today at work or anything, as you can see: not posting for a month, then here I am warbling on about urban exploration! But then I would really rather be out charting the course of a drain, or sketching the rust scars on a strange unknowable lump of concrete, then sitting here at my desk being a good little IBM sysadmin.

Which I’m not, by the way. I’m not a very good sysadmin: I get annoyed, and wish there were more scope in I.T. for letting things get old and ignored. But there isn’t. You can’t just leave a programme and expect it to develop some mysterious patina (which word, incidentally, means only that green of copper, and Age in general; strictly speaking, of course) that will evoke some imagined, fictional, past time. They just don’t change. They’re boring.

Reading the above website, and I wish now to have

  1. time;
  2. a camera;
  3. my website hosted on an old box under the stairs;
  4. a city with more scope for UE; and
  5. the appropriate bag.

Oddly enough.

Where I Write

I have often thought that one of the greatest attractions for me to writing in ink, on paper, in a properly-bound book, is that where one writes the words is where they will remain, and the only place they will ever be. That’s not the case when writing on a screen: I often write a post for this blog, for example, whilst off-line, and in different editors, on different computers. Then I paste it into here, save it, and it appears in it’s final place where you’re reading it now.

That last sentence belies where I’m writing this, but had I transcribed these words from a book that I’d written in whilst sitting on the ground on Mount Ainslie being buffeted by a strong wind — how would be different? How does being exposed to the original copy of a piece of writing affect how it is read? What is the ‘original copy’ on the web?

Sometimes (this morning, for example) I’m into the fact that the web separates content from medium — the written word certainly remains, and the loss of the detail of the act of writing is good, because we then focus on what is written, and how how it was composed. Of course (like so much of the blogosphere), this does allow for this sort of introspective post that really does no one any good and is rightly ignored by the whole planet. But that doesn’t matter. The point is that I generally have in mind the final resting place of my words as I write them, and that changes what I write about and how I write it. My problem at the moment (oh, yeah, it’s a real problem!) is that I sometimes write good stuff on paper, and there it languishes forever and is never read; conversly, I (often?) write poor ramblings on screen (generally on this blog, or on my wiki) that should never have been written, let alone read. So whereto from that?

It feels more ‘pure’ to write with a fountain pen in a book, more active and engaging to tap at a keyboard on the web. A rough draft composed in pencil[1] up a tree in a disposable notebook which is then posted here with accompanying images? Or carefully-formed words in a Moleskine that are never to be seen again? Given my current desire to not encumber myself with Stuff, the former is where I’m at.

[1] The Faber-Castell ‘E-Motion’ is in my pocket always. [Back up]