American Scientist has a review of a new book on the history of writing technologies with a focus on how computers fit in. A BETTER PENCIL: Readers, Writers, and the Digital Revolution by Dennis Baron.
Will this shift in the technology of writing and reading be a positive development in human culture? Will it promote literacy, or impair it? Baron takes a moderate position on these questions. On the one hand, he acknowledges that the computer offers remarkable opportunities for self-expression and communication (at least for those of us in the wealthier parts of the world). Suddenly, we can all be published authors, and we all have access to the writings—or if nothing else the Twitterings—of millions of other authors. On the other hand, much of what these new channels of communication bring us is mere noise and distraction, and we may lose touch with more serious kinds of reading and writing. (Another recent book—The Shallows, by Nicholas Carr—argues this point strenuously.) Baron remarks: “That position incorrectly assumes that when we’re not online we throw ourselves into high-culture mode, reading Tolstoi spelled with an i and writing sestinas and villanelles instead of shopping lists.”