Tuesday, December 02, 2003

Technology describes the ways in which we make and use tools (or machines) to increase our control and understanding of the material environment. The Vygotskian view that a sign can also function as a tool extends this definition in useful ways (Vygotsky, 1978). So, for Vygotsky, verbal language, gesture and concepts can also be described as tools. Writing then, is a kind of technology, a technology that amongst other things allows us to represent or remember (Vygotsky referred to this as the use of ‘mnemotechnic symbols’).

But writing is also a physical act, a way of leaving a mark on our physical environment, and this act of mark-making involves the use of writing tools. From this point of view, writing has a long and intimate relationship with technology. Ong (1982) in an early exploration of writing and the new technology argues that writing is technology – in the way that it involves:

‘…the use of tools and other equipment: styli or brushes or pens, carefully prepared surfaces such as paper, animal skins, strips of wood, as well as inks or paints, and much more.’

(Ong, 1982, pp 81-82)

It seems clear then that technology is writing in two senses. Firstly, in the sense that it is a primary artifact (Wartofsky, 1973) which we use to gain control and understanding of our environment and secondly, because all writing involves the use of tools or instruments for mark-making. Writing on screen can now be seen as new writing resulting from the use of new tools.

Phenomena such as text-messaging, selecting menus on cable television and exchanging e-mails are all forms of the new writing, writing with new technology, writing that is characterised by the use of the screen. This writing uses new surfaces and media, new tools and instruments, and involves new ways of handling and using these tools. There are also well-documented changes in orthographic conventions such as the adoption of new symbols, alternative spellings, and specific words and phrases (Werry, 1996; Shortis ,2001; Merchant,2001). Beneath the surface of writing we can also see changes in the roles and functions of writing practices, some resulting from the increased interdependency of communicative modes, and others in notions of textual authority, publishing and originality (Lankshear and Knobel, 2003).