Putting the IT in Writing


Last weekend I had an interesting chat with my uncle on the impact of medium on the creative process. Coming from an older generation, he said that he can’t create on computer – he can only edit. The actual creating has to take place on paper. I am in the lucky generation where computers became ubiquitous early enough that they are natural, but late enough that so’s paper. I found it quite interesting that the medium impacts his thought processes to an extent that some of them don’t function, because for me the creative process on paper and computer is exactly the same (although computer is neater, since you can’t see the places where I’ve scribbled).

Taking that progression to the next generation, will those for whom computers have always been around find paper impossible to create on? Nearly everyone’s heard a story about the baby of a friend of a friend who was seen trying to zoom on a TV, or even the wallpaper, as if it were a smartphone. Learned behaviour and environment kicks in earlier than we think.

Maybe it’s just a fear of change, but I’d be sad to think that writing on paper is dying out. I can’t really justify that – it’s simply that I enjoy it for its own sake. Similarly, my issue with Kindles and their kind. I travel a lot with work, so it would make sense for me to have one – simultaneously cutting down on baggage weight whilst letting me take tons more reading material. Yet, despite the utility, I remain obstinately against them. I like the feel of a paper book, and dread the day when they stop being printed. Ebooks are cheaper, more environment friendly, more portable, etc etc – I acknowledge the long list of reasons why they might be considered superior – but they aren’t beautiful. Despite just about being a child of the technological age, and wholly at ease with writing electronically, I remain addicted to reading paper.

5 responses »

  1. I felt the same about Kindles. Then I got one. They make reading a much more pleasant experience and I read even more because of it. This can only be a good thing.
    Plus I’m running out of space for more books…

  2. Weirdly I find it easier to write on a computer (due to being able to edit so easily, if I want to add bits, or take them out along the way), but for proof reading I feel I have to have it on paper. This is true for essays in particular, I can’t seem to process the piece of writing in front of me on the screen when trying to edit it as a whole, possibly changing the structure, adding bits here and there, taking other bits out – for some reason I need paper and a pen to scribble on it with. Sometimes pens in multiple colours! I have no idea why.

    And yes, I agree, books are beautiful. That in itself is an interesting concept to me as a product designer (and a note-book addict)… what exactly is the appeal of a book?

  3. Hi there,

    This is an interesting read. I’m probably from the same generation as your uncle (I’m Armaitus’ dad) yet probably agree more with your own views of medium and paper. Back in the 60’s a guy called Marshall McLuhan [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Marshall_McLuhan] wrote heavily about ‘medium’ v ‘message’ and although he was then concerned (?) about the effects of television on future generations, his theories have great resonance today.

    I’ve spent that last fifteen years trying the get teachers to see how changing (emerging) technologies can be utilised to help learners to learn; most recently with the creative use of mobile phones and handheld games consoles – but it’s hard for the majority of any one generation to let go of their comfort zones.

    I still prefer to read a book, a paperback at that – rather than a hardback, yet if I chose to use my iPad for reading (I haven’t gone Kindle yet) I could change to text size and background colour to help my failing eyes. If I chose to use my laptop I could change the background colour and even make the text ‘re-flow’ at maximum size. But I still prefer to read my paperback. Having said that and coming back to your uncle, I too prefer to work things out on paper and to plan on paper. But I prefer to create on screen. If I have a list of things to create or ideas to lay out, I use paper (despite the plethora of online mindmaps and planning tools). If I start writing to someone, writing my blog(s), writing an article – I create on screen – I just cannot do THAT on paper.



    • So do you think it is a question of learned behaviour, or individual psychology? Or a bit of both? Why do people have this mental pigeonhole of medium for specific messages? It is a strange quirk in the brain, and something I think could tell us a lot about the way generations – and individuals – communicate.

  4. Hi,

    Now you’re asking! Nature versus Nurture [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nature_versus_nurture] is a huge debate, one I’ve never really dabbled in – I leave that to people like my wife who teach childcare students. I have to say that I probably favour a 50/50 solution (that fence I’m sat on can be quite painful). I think we all have features and proclivities which we are born with, but two of the most essential of these has to be the ability to think and the ability to adapt.

    If we don’t learn to think as we grow, and to challenge and adapt our views to suit ever-changing circumstances we stagnate as an individual and ultimately as a species. However, as one ages other aspects affect these essential abilities. As one goes through life, one makes various hard choices based on circumstances at the time and because the choices are hard, it is difficult to change one’s opinions and preferences.

    I was taught to write with a pencil on paper. We then progressed to pen and ink, using cheap nibs and cheap ink. I really struggled with these but wasn’t allowed to move up to ballpoint (Biro) pens until I was able to write neatly with the nibs. I never progressed and neither did my handwriting. Only in secondary school, where we were allowed to use our own pens did I get to write with a Biro. My handwriting is still very very bad and during my early working life I suspect that it let me down a great deal when applying for jobs. Once I acquired a typewriter and learned to type did my means of communicating improve. My biggest problem now was spelling.

    When I first came across a Word-processor (Wordstar – circa 1988) I thought that all of my birthdays had come at once: no more need for Tippex fluid or corrector ribbons, the words could simply be deleted and replaced as necessary. As spell-checkers improved over the years life became easier still.

    So why tell you all of this? Well, if my handwriting had been better than it was and if the cruel witch of a teacher who made me stay in at break times to replace everyone’s broken nibs as a punishment for being such a slow ‘pen and ink’ hand-writer, had encouraged me instead of discouraging me, I may never have developed the interest in technology that I now have. I too therefore, may have preferred paper for creativity.

    In my case therefore, was it nurture that helped me to develop or was it nature that forced me to seek out better and easier ways to communicate? I’ve no idea ;-(


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