“and then it flows through me like rain…”: realizations about writing technologies

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The finished product with strawberry ink and makeshift brush (stick I found in my backyard, which was originally intended for carving letters).

I think I’ve always associated the term “technology” with computers. Maybe it has something to do with the fact that computers and the Internet were such new and dominating technologies as I was growing up…

So to come to the realization through readings by Walter Ong, Alex Reid, and Dennis Baron that writing is a technology blew my mind initially–though it makes perfect sense now. Sure, we are born with a natural inclination to communicate with others, but not through producing text. Instead, we start babbling by the time we’re a few months old and then we gradually move into learning how to speak single words…then phrases…then sentences. We learn to communicate through signs, too; for example, as babies, we point to things that we want but don’t know the words for. These are things we’re apparently hard-wired to do. But not until we are explicitly and intentionally sat down with a crayon and paper do we have any inclination to communicate through writing.

What a realization. Re-thinking what it means to be literate and what constitutes a writing technology is what this was all about (or what it ended up being about–at least for me). I created the clay surface of my writing technology using nothing more than some boiling water, all-purpose flour, salt, vegetable oil, and cream of tartar. What I was surprised by was how quickly the surface began to dry and how little time this gave me to do any “writing” (or, in this case, carving).

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Lots of flour, water, salt, oil, and cream of tartar made for a big batch of clay!

I had initially planned on using a stick I’d found in my backyard to carve the text, but realized that it was not sharp enough to create letters with the precision that I wanted. Since I was attempting to fit 16 words onto a slab of clay about the size of a sheet of paper (and because the clay was drying fast), I knew I needed to find a more precise tool that I could use as a writing utensil. I scrambled around my kitchen and saw my set of keys sitting on the counter. Perfect. I ended up using a house key to carve my text, though I was able to salvage the stick for something; I later used it as a tool to apply the red ink that I made out of a crushed strawberry.

In my panic to find a tool that would be suitable as a writing utensil, I remember thinking “if only I could just use a pen or pencil!” But by being limited to found objects outside of established writing technologies (yes, pencils and pens are technologies in themselves. Imagine that, right?), I was able to gain a new appreciation for the writing utensils that I have available to me today. Thanks to my computer, I was able to type out and post this blog in a matter of minutes. With the stroke of the CTRL+I keys, I was able to create emphasis on certain words in my text in a matter of milliseconds, whereas it took me ten or fifteen minutes to create and apply ink for emphasis in my created text. One benefit that my writing surface afforded me that I did not think about beforehand, however, was the ability to edit in ways that modern technologies also offer. If I made a mistake, a small amount of pressure from my thumb to the clay erased it and gave me a clean slate to work with. Still, I think I prefer my “backspace” key. 🙂

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Before ink was applied. Kinda dull, huh?

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