The Writable Society

This is cross-posted from my blog.

Let’s just get this out of the way: I’m lucky.

I’m lucky because I got to attend Mozilla’s annual gathering known as Mozfest last weekend at the beautiful Ravensbourne Institute of digital media and design in London. Yes, that’s right. London. But much more than the incredible location, Mozfest provided me and my colleagues from the National Writing Project (Chad Sansing, Christina Cantrill and Elyse Eidman-Aadahl) an opportunity to interact not just with other educators but with programmers and foundation directors, with gamers and entrepreneurs. We exchanged ideas and built side by side.

During one of many amazing moments (of making, of doing, of meeting, of talking), Mozilla Foundation’s Executive Director Mark Surman exhorted all of us in attendance to build the writable society.

What did he mean by “writable society”? My interpretation: a future in which we have agency, in which the notion of what it means to be an author is made both more expansive – writing code, for instance, falls into the category of authorship, as does remixing content on the web – and made more democratic – anyone can write and remix that code using tools like Mozilla’s Thimble and Popcorn.

I love this idea.

Like Mark Surman, I also believe that before us lies the opportunity to draft, to compose, to construct, to write, our emerging world, rather than simply consume it. Writing more than ever is the means by which we construct knowledge today, powered by creativity and informed by social context. We see this in the compositions youth create by the millions, from text messages to videos.

I’m lucky also to be a part of this peer network of writers and educators known as the National Writing Project. We held our Annual Meeting this past week and at that event, along with the National Council of Teachers of English conference, I got to watch teachers create their own e-books, see them learn about systems thinking concepts by building paper airplanes, and I got to play with circuits and electronics myself. All in the name of literacy learning in its broadest sense: what it means to be literate today in our multimodal digital world.

In particular, I got the opportunity to work with Kylie Peppler and Rafi Santo, both in Learning Sciences at Indiana University, and two pioneers in the field of systems thinking concepts applied to real-world issues. They’ve turned their most recent work into a coherent, fun and challenging set of curricula: Understanding Systems: Digital Design for a Complex World, a three-volume series that was co-developed with NWP teachers and will be published by MIT Press in Spring 2013.

And then, as if that weren’t enough, I capped off the week by attending NaNoWriMo‘s Night of Writing Dangerously at the gorgeous Julia Morgan Ballroom in San Francisco. My friends donated money so that I could attend and write this post, among other things, alongside several hundred others participating in the word sprint known as National Novel Writing Month. The diabolical idea behind NaNoWriMo: create a novel out of whole cloth over the course of 30 days.

The future of our society is in fact writable. But in order for us to realize that truth, we need also to remember that we all are writers. That we all have the power and obligation to build and create, whether it’s a hackable, remixable tutorial tool, a programmable e-bracelet or a 50,000-word novel.