What is writing? Is writing dead? Should we call people writers who cannot hold a pen or type? What kinds of writing should we teach?
Submitted by David J. Rosen on May 5, 2019 - 9:21am
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Hello writing colleagues,
Paul Jurmo called to my attention this New York Times article, "From Clay Tablets to Smartphones: 5,000 Years of Writing" and I thought it might interest you. https://www.nytimes.com/2019/05/02/arts/design/writing-exhibition-british-library.html
Is writing dead? Author Cody Delistraty writes that it is not. "The writing’s on the wall, we’re told. Whether it was Johannes Gutenberg’s printing press in the 15th century, the invention of the typewriter 300 years later, or the emoji of today’s smartphones, the act of writing seems to be forever on the precipice of extinction, without quite falling off."
What does it mean to write? "For one, writing is fundamentally an act of thinking. It would be wrong to define writing exclusively as the act of putting words onto a page, because it is ultimately about the conception and transmission of thought." Delistraty points out that John Milton, who wrote “Paradise Lost” after going blind, dictated it to his daughters and Jean-Dominique Bauby, who suffered from locked-in syndrome, "managed to write 'The Diving Bell and the Butterfly' by blinking when an assistant read out letters from the alphabet."
Those who have read the discussion here earlier about a broader definition of reading that includes "auding," getting information from text by having it read out loud by a human or by a technology device, will notice that I am also interested in broadening the definition of writing. I love Delistraty's definition: (recorded or transmitted) thinking, That isn't new, of course; for many years we have accepted dictated speech as writing, and now that speech-to-text software has greatly improved, it's often hard to know when reading someone's writing if fingers have touched a pen or keyboard. I know at least one contributor to the LINCS CoP, for example, whose posts are often dictated using computer or smartphone software. Are your posts here dictated?
For those who value calligraphy and other kinds of beautiful handwriting, or magnificant digital fonts, and for many who teach writing this broadened definition may not be welcome.
Perhaps one solution is to distinguish the many kinds of writing, for example: quick notes, instant messaging, emojis, graffiti, magazine or newspaper writing, school or academic writing, journal writing, plain language writing, literary writing, and many more kinds and sub-kinds of writing. Of course some kinds of writing are of a higher quality, and if we accept that writing is "recorded or transmitted thinking" there may be better and worse thinking.
I am interested to hear what Reading and Writing group members think of a broadened definition of writing -- recorded or transmitted thinking -- and what kind(s) of writing you believe adult basic skills instructors should be teaching, and why.
David J. Rosen, Moderator
LINCS CoP Integrating Technology group