When I first read that my 516 class had an assignment to invent our own writing technology, I got really excited because I immediately began thinking of ideas for an online collaboration software tool that could be used in online writing centers as a way of offering more synchronous methods of tutoring. Of course, I’m not a programmer and didn’t think we’d actually be creating the thing–I sort of figured we’d be writing an essay on what an ideal writing technology would look like if we could create one. As soon as I actually began reading into the assignment, though, it became clear that I had the wrong idea of the kind of writing “technology” we were expected to create.
First of all, this was not a hypothetical technology that we would simply be writing about…no, we have to actually make the thing! Terrifying. Even more surprising, though, is the realization that has come with reading through the actual assignment description and some work by Walter Ong, Dennis Baron, and Plato (yes, Plato…whose stuff I usually can’t stand): writing technologies aren’t necessarily computer-based (so why did my mind immediately go there?). In fact, writing in itself is a technology.
Out of curiosity, I just looked up “technology” in Miriam-Webster’s Dictionary:
“1a : the practical application of knowledge especially in a particular area : engineering 2 <medical technology>
b : a capability given by the practical application of knowledge <a car’s fuel-saving technology>
2: a manner of accomplishing a task especially using technical processes, methods, or knowledge <new technologies for information storage>
3: the specialized aspects of a particular field of endeavor <educational technology>”
Not sure which definition really applies best to what I’m getting at–maybe 2, right? The act of writing, after all, is a technical process, as literacy requires specialized knowledge. Anybody who writes needs to know an entire system of language–its syntactic rules for putting together a coherent thought, its specific alphabet, etc. Aside from just knowing this information, though, those who write need to know how to apply it (okay, so maybe definition 1 works best…I don’t know).
What I’ve gotten out of this assignment so far, though (without having actually started creating my own technology or writing my essay) is a better understanding of what defines a writing technology. As Baron explains in “From Pencils to Pixels,” even the pencil is a technology (though interestingly enough, it was not originally invented to be used as a writing tool) because it eventually became recognized as useful and associated with other accepted forms of communication.
So even though I immediately thought of computers and software and programming when I first heard about this assignment, the requirement is actually to invent a writing technology using essentially found materials. The finished product should also be portable and permanent (though it doesn’t have to be, I get that these are valued qualities of any kind of writing).
Now if only I knew exactly what I was gonna do with this…baking has been an obsession of mine lately, so maybe I can cook something up.