The Connection: Literacy and Technology Writing has nearly undergone a complete evolution with the multitude of technological changes it has experienced. Karen Bromley posits the idea of a complete evolution in her article, “Picture a World Without Pens, Pencils, and Paper.” She describes the process our ancestors used 100,000 years ago when they drew portraits on cave walls as a way of communicating and she compares that to the numerous writing styles we have today, which include emails, blogs, twitter, and text messaging (98). The writing utensil that was used to sign the most important document in our nation‟s history, the quill pen, was certainly an important writing technology, but it has been long forgotten since that era. Scholarly authors have had contradicting views on whether technological changes have helped or hindered people's writing; teachers have been wondering “whether these technologies will improve children‟s literacy skills or take them forever away from traditional reading and writing” (Bertram 289). However, they should understand that these changes are going to happen and should think more of how we can help people adapt rather than worry about the pros and cons. This 21st century media-based writing has changed how, why, where, and how much we write; however we have experienced similar adaptations in the past, so why should these technological changes be any different? My plan is not to dwell too much on the issue of whether or not newer technologies influence people‟s writing skills negatively, positively, or neutrally. Advancements in writing technologies happen all the time and how we adapt to it is very important. Scholarly authors‟ opinions are nearly split right down the middle with some (names) believing newer technologies are beneficial, while others (names) are completely against the use of online sources, such as blogs and emails. Dennis Baron expresses his feelings of the invention of the computer by stating


that “my contention…is a modest one: the computer is simply the latest step in a long line of writing technologies” (425). According to Dennis Baron, the pencil was once the “state-of-the-art technology,” but most people would never consider it a form of technology nowadays (422). Today the main form of communicating in literacy terms is done by means of a keyboard and screen instead of pencil and paper. Very few people agree that the pencil was a writing technology, so this same disagreement could happen when a new technology overrides the computer. Each form of writing should be known as a writing technology because I am sure most people agree that a computer is a technological apparatus. Even though, writing is a lot easier with the use of computers, it is simpler to look for a text, such as Emily Dickinson‟s poetry that is stashed away in a box, than to attempt to find someone‟s article on an outdated floppy disk that is not even accessible with our new computer systems (Bromley 100). When a new technology is invented, old inventions are forgotten, just like the example of the floppy disk. Being able to save a file or written text on a square shaped disk was a great innovation, but newer computers only have spaces to insert flash drives or CDs. As new products continue to rise, older ones will continue to be pushed to the side. So no matter how different these writing technologies are, they were each designed for the same purpose and they have progressively helped writing become easier for us to do. Christina Haas described the similarities of these different literacy technologies in an attempt to provide more “interesting understandings about how old and new technologies coexist and influence one another in distinctly nonlinear ways” (226). Newer technologies give people the ability to perform the same tasks they would with pen and paper, but in a more efficient way. Many authors and teachers believe that communicating through social networking sites, emails, and text messaging hinder their students‟ ability to produce credible texts (Keller and


Leibowitz). Leibowitz cites one college professor who described the normal college freshman as a student “accustomed to writing in the unstructured, chatty style of e-mail discussions, but not in formal prose. Students submit essays that are longer but not better written than those in years past” (Leibowitz 1). This debate consists of three major concerns for those who oppose writing becoming part of the electronic realm, according to Mark Warschauer. He believes that “it is informal, it is graphic (rather than text) dominant, and it facilitates plagiarism (916). I am only going to expound on the first two issues since they fall into the discussion I am currently addressing. Electronic texts normally consist of poor grammatical uses that will never be acceptable in formal writing, such as repeated letters or extra punctuation marks for dramatic affects, the use of emoticons (), and reduced capitalization, (916). The use of computers as a writing technology also raises the concern of fraud, in which we have to trust the mass public. The other side of this argument is full of optimistic authors and teachers who are delighted with the latest writing technologies that have become ever so popular to writers. The use of the computer and ability to post written texts online provides students with a much more time-efficient way of finishing assignments and gives teachers the freedom to grade their pupils‟ work online without having to haul home boxes full of papers that still need to be marked. Some scholars believe that the new writing style is “more engaged and more connected to an audience, and that colleges should encourage students to bring lessons from that writing into the classroom” (Keller 597). Mr. Rogers, a professor Josh Keller interviewed, implied that the out of class writing that is normally done through instant messaging or texting, actually makes students more conscious of the things writing teachers want them to think about when attempting to write correctly and for the right audience (599). Technology provides more sources for students, as well as authors who need support for their claims, whether through databases or online blogs.


Bruce Bertram asserts “technology provides marvelous new tools for teaching and learning that can improve literacy education” (290). Adopting the right stance toward technology can be difficult, but there is always the possibility of staying neutral on the argument. Many people dislike computers as technological writing tools, while others support this new form of literacy completely. What about those who cannot decide? These indecisive people usually see a complete separation between technology and literacy. Bertram describes it perfectly when he expands on the neutral stance regarding this issue: Neutrality: Some say no stance toward technology is needed, thus arguing for neutrality. They stress that literacy is about feelings and ideas; technology is about things. Texts and objects are separate realms. This stance accepts technologies as potentially valuable, and technology as a valid area of study, but it does not connect either specific technologies or technology studies to its primary concerns about the life of texts. (Bertram 290) The process of composition has greatly changed with the use of computers. “When writers use a pen or typewriter, they normally think of their entire sentence before committing it to their paper; on the other hand, people writing on a computer hardly ever think of the entire sentence and they often go back and move the text around because our computer screens are elastic” (Leibowitz 2). Computers are helpful because we can correct errors and fix the sentence structure without making a mess, but then again they might prevent writers from actually thinking things through when they write. Regardless of the pros and cons of the latest writing

technologies, we need to adapt to the new styles of writing because the writing process will continue to change. Typewriters were a popular literacy tool in the late 1880‟s through most of the 20th century, but how often do we use them today? Some people may have continued to write everything out, but if an author refuses to post his articles online, he/she will most likely not get


as many readers or responses to his work. Historically when people have changed the process they use to write, it has been beneficial. This is comparable to animals in the wild. If they do not adapt to their surroundings, they usually do not survive. A writer will not succeed without adapting to the latest literacy technology. Bertram describes in his article a person that goes beyond those who support writing technologies and is on a completely different spectrum from those who oppose technologies. “They will replace or radically transform the basic definition of literacy… the task is to understand and guide the transformation” to a new literacy technology (291). This means that by guiding the shift from one writing style to another, writers will be able to control the transformation and make sure it is valuable to all writers. Adaption is crucial. By accepting the changes that are being made when new writing technologies are invented, we usually change how, why, where, and how much we write. The new styles of writing have greatly changed since the Internet became such an important part of our everyday lives. High school and college classes have adopted new ways for their students to write, usually through blogs, emails, or other electronic spaces. When students publish their work on the Web, they are exposed to various different opinions that might help them realize what they should do to improve their paper more so than when a professor grades it (Leibowitz 1). Feedback from more than one person has always been a great way to edit papers, even if it is just peer editing within a classroom. Also, when their work was published, students “tend to work harder…they pay more attention to how they can best express their ideas, and they worry about how poorly written prose may look to their readers” (Leibowitz 2). Emails have become popular means of communication within classrooms lately. Warschauer discovered the “motivational benefits of email communication” when he did an international survey of a variety of students in different language universities. He came away with three factors that demonstrated the extra motivation


due to the conversation through e-mails: “their enjoyment of international communication, their sense of empowerment due to the development of new technological skills, and their belief that communication via e-mail assisted their language learning” (914). The latest writing technologies have not really changed why we write, but helped us want to write more than ever before. Another beneficial factor with the computer is the freedom to write wherever we want to, instead of having to sit down at a desk with a pen and paper. Where we write has changed. Baron presents an interesting example of this; he usually has his laptop close at hand so he could write whenever he needs to finish something. In one case, he did not have his laptop and he had a memo that was due before lunchtime, but he was in a meeting. Normally he would be able to finish his work at the meeting, but, he notes, “the physical effort of handwriting, crossing out, revising, cutting, and pasting” was nearly impossible to do without showing that he wasn‟t paying attention. Before the invention of computers, he would not be able to finish his work at the last minute. The places we write have greatly changed through these new literacy technologies. The latest writing technologies have also helped us want to write more than ever before (Warschauer). Younger people, such as teenagers and young adults, write more than they used to with the invention of text messaging and social networking sites. Their grammatical usage is normally incorrect; however, students do write more out of the classroom than in the past. When it comes to how much scholars write for journal articles, there has been little change. James Hartley, Michael Howe, and Wilbert McKeachie studied their methods of writing over a thirtyyear period and documented their results, which included the number of words sampled, average number of sentences, and a few other stats. Each writer wrote their texts out by hand in the first decade, which was up to and including the 1980‟s. The next decade they slowly began using


typewriters and in the 1990-2000 time span, they did the majority of their work on the computer. The results of this study showed that even though they used different writing methods throughout the years, the average number of words sampled was within one hundred words of each other and the number of sentences was within 10 sentences of each other (145-148). This study demonstrated that the newer writing technologies have surprisingly not altered how much scholars write, yet there is evidence that our younger generation does write more with the use of cellphones and computers. Leibowitz states, “Ever since the days when students wrote with chalk on slates, or dipped quills into ink pots, technology and writing have been closely connected” (Leibowitz 1). People may view technology as merely a tool, but without this tool there would not be the possibility of expressing one‟s ideas through writing. Bertram constructed a figure in his article that demonstrated the connection, yet also the distinction between literacy and technology. He had two circles with the words literacy in one and technology in the other. There was an arrow pointing from technology to literacy, but it had to bend around a wall that divided the two (292). As time moves on, the distinction between literacy and technology is becoming smaller and smaller because the new technological advances include the computer and other media-based forms of communication, which are starting to become the main forms of literacy. Writing technologies have continued to change year in and year out, yet people still have to go through the same thought process they would have gone through 50 years ago before there was any electronic devices available. Our literacy history proves that the technologies will change, but the most important thing we can do as writers, is adapt to the latest modifications without altering our styles of writing. How people write today, as well as why, where, and how much we write has changed to an extent with the advancement in computers. The majority of


writing today is done via computer, whether it is a student, teacher, author, or just a businessman writing an e-mail. However, we should continue to consider the pencil as a technology of the past. Baron described the process the engineer made when developing the pencil; having to find the “correct blend of graphite and clay so that the „lead‟ is not too soft or too brittle” (426). The invention of the pencil was a great breakthrough for our literacy history, and we should continue to adapt each time a new writing technology is developed because the evolution of technologies have proven beneficial to writers.


Works Cited Baron, Dennis. “From Pencils to Pixels: The Stages of Literacy Technologies.” Passions, Pedagogies, and 21st Century Technologies. Ed. Gail Hawisher and Cynthia Selfe. Logan: Utah State UP, 1999. 15-33. Print. Bertram, Bruce. "Critical Issues, Literacy Technologies: What Stance Should We Take?." Journal of Literacy Research. 29.2 (1997): 289-309. Print. Bromley, Karen. “Picture a World Without Pens, Pencils, and Paper: The Unanticipated Future of Reading and Writing.” Journal of College Reading and Writing, 41.1 (Fall 2010): 97-108, Print. Haas, Christina. "On the Relationship Between Old and New Technologies." Computers and Composition. 16.2 (1999): 209-228. Print. Hartley, James, Michael Howe, and Wilbert McKeachie. "Writing Through Time: Longitudinal Studies of the Effects of New Technology on Writing." British Journal Of Educational Technology 32.2 (2001): 141-151. 1 Mar. 2012. Web. Keller, Josh. “Studies Explore Whether the Internet Makes Students Better Writers.” The Chronicle of Higher Education.Chronicle.com, 15 June 2009. 29 Feb 2012. Web. Leibowitz, Wendy R. "Technology Transforms Writing And The Teaching Of Writing." Chronicle Of Higher Education 46.14 (1999): A67. Academic Search Complete. 28 Feb 2012. Web. Warschauer Mark. “Technology and Writing.” International Handbook of English Language Teaching. Springer US. 15. (2007): 907-919. Print.

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