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.

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.)

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]