Why Are We Not Speaking about What We Are Writing?

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I found that Dennis Baron’s essay “From Pencils to Pixels” in Tribble and Trubek’s Writing Material was helpful in that it uncovered a long line of writing’s technological development; however, aside from the historical information, I did not really feel that I learned much.  What I mean to say is that his argument did not seem like an argument to me, but fact.  Baron writes, “My contention in this essay is a modest one: the computer is simply the latest step in a long line of writing technologies” (37).  Perhaps I have this viewpoint because this is the primary use I have for my own computer, while many others can say that gaming, shopping, communication, etc. make up their own primary computer usage.  However, I do not really see how this idea can be anything other than fact.  Baron did first publish this essay in 1999, so computer, and particularly word processing, usage and development at that time must be considered.  Anyone living today must recognize the computer as a major influence, if not today’s most important influence, on written communication.


However, one point that I did find very valuable and new from Baron’s essay was a suggestion about the relationship between written and oral communication.  He wrote, “But even today, most written text does not transcribe spoken language” (40).  This is not an idea that I really remember discussing in our class as of yet.  We have talked about the influences of oral culture on written culture; however, we have never come across this idea that is so true.  Think of all of the papers, articles, proposals, notes to ourselves, and so on that are never spoken aloud.  I know when I thought about this I was astounded.  To think that so much of my work and so many of my best ideas are never even talked about is really quite sad.  And when we are simple undergraduates, we do not typically have or take the chance to spread our work around in written or oral form.


Perhaps this was one of Plato’s Socrates’ biggest fears about writing: that writing would not be properly shared and discussed.  Plato writes, “Socrates: ‘But nobler far is the serious pursuit of the dialectician, who, finding a congenial soul, by the help of science sows and plants therein words which are able to help themselves and him who planted them, and are not unfruitful, but have in them a seed which others brought up in different soils render immortal, making the possessors of it happy to the utmost extent of human happiness’” (363).  This is one area where, at least in undergraduate academia, oral culture has not fully left its mark.  However, when thinking about this idea, I remembered Shellie mentioning in class that when she was writing on her blog she was “saying” something.  Perhaps this is one way that we are able to share the germs of some of our greatest (or some of our not so great) academic thoughts with one another.  If this is the case, you should really take a look at what my classmates have to say about Baron’s essay.  

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