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Published
Sep 09 2016

Defining Digital Writing (A Modest Proposal)

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Digital Writing, in the margins

It's quite possible this is impossible. I am trying to narrow in on the affordances of what we mean by the phrase "Digital Writing." I may even veer way off track here, and perhaps it is best for all of us just to drop the "digital" once and for all, and just call it .. writing. Although, I, for one, still prefer the word "composing."

Still ... I am on this merry path of thinking because I am giving an ending Keynote to the (free!) 4T Virtual Conference on Digital Writing, which takes place on Sundays in October and because I have been engaged in an intriguing margin annotation activity with my CLMOOC friend, Karen LaBonte, who wrote a "field report" blog post that shared some critique of the phrase "Digital Writing" by close family members.

That had me thinking: OK, so WHAT do we mean? What affordances does the digital bring to writing? How is it different from what we think of as (regular) writing (ie, paper, pen/cil, etc.) And, why do we need to differentiate?

Here is a rough list of affordances, in my view, of how Digital Writing is different from, eh, Analog Writing. (Boy, that phrase looks odd, right?)

Digital Writing ...

  • is more than just words typed on a screen. A simple blog post is not really digital writing;
  • potentially crosses mediums, so that words might mix with sound might mix with video might mix with other media;
  • narrows the gap between writer and reader by giving more agency to the reader than traditional relationships, and so, the writer must plan for that changed relationship;
  • can have deeper associative properties, particularly when thinking of how hyperlinks embedded within the text might connect one text to another, providing options and trails that move away from the main text itself;
  • may or may not harness the possibilities of the underlying yet mostly hidden "writing" -- the computer code of the page that we read that has been represented as text but is actually not text;
  • provides for possible collaborations beyond the writer, and sometimes without their permission or notice, such as the margin annotations on a website page or a remix of media.

The criticism, including my own, may be be that most of what I just wrote in this list is not necessarily "writing." It is more technology -- tinkering with the way we represent writing in the larger world. But I still think if "composing" is the word we use when it comes to "digital writing," we are more apt to be open to the use of various media, of hyperlinks like paths on a literacy map, of reader involvement in the original text, of the sort of planning that "digital writer" has to do to create a "digital text." It is all composition.

DIGITAL the poem

I don't think we are at a point where all writing is digital writing, and therefore, we don't need a separate designation on it. I don't know if digital writing is the right term, though. But it does seem to me that we need some way to show that technology is changes the way we compose our texts in the world, if only so we can talk about it (and maybe debate it).

What do you think?

Peace (write it into the world),
Kevin

Watch Kevin Hodgson's Closing Keynote "A Day in the Life of a Digital Writer/Educator" for the #4TDW and check out the associated resources.

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