In a high-technology environment, it only seems natural that even reading a book could involve digital technology. In regards to high-technology societies, Walter Ong states that they “are built on literacy of necessity and which encourage the impression that literacy is an always to be expected and even natural of affairs.” Those who are not literate are seen as belonging of a lower class. Audiobooks are popular reading technology, providing a wide range of users with a flexible, individualized, mobile, and adaptable reading experience, and allowing them to overcome obstacles that may hinder their meeting societies literacy demands.
Casbergue, Renee Michelet, and Karen Harris. “Listening and literacy: Audiobooks in the reading program.” Reading Horizons 37.1 (1996): 4.
Jason Palmeri’s “Composition Has Always Already Been Multimodal” discuss the process of creating multimodal text. Creativity is the beginning of that process. When explaining creativity, Palmeri compares composing a multimodal text to writing a work of art or music, saying “When people are “composing in writing” (I), they are selecting and ordering words; when people are composing a painting or composing a symphony, they are selecting and ordering auditory or imagistic elements” (26). Later in the article, Palmeri encourages teachers of writing to experience composing with different modalities, including fine arts, to gain insight into invention and revision. I would like to explore his theory by experiencing the composition of a work of art and comparing the composition and revision of that work of art to the composition and revision of a text. For my work of art, I chose to use PhotoShop to create a collage of images. To begin my composition, I decided which photos I wanted to use for my collage. Not only did I have to decide which photos I wanted to use, but I also had to determine how many I wanted to use and what color or pattern I wanted my background to be. Once those decisions were made, I had to start placing my images onto the background. As I put each picture onto the background, I had to decide what size I wanted each image to be, and how I wanted them arranged. While making these decisions, I had to have some idea of what I wanted my final product to be, however, my plan for my final product was flexible and varied as I made decisions for each image. Once I felt my final product was complete, I took a moment to look at the picture as a whole, checking for any changes I might want to make and editing accordingly. Then, I printed and framed my work. After displaying my hard work, I began to reflect on how the creative and revision process I used to create my photo collage compared to the method I use when composing a text. When writing, instead of choosing photos, I often select resources to support my text. As part of selecting my resources, I make decisions about how the resource text will support my claims, and at what point in my writing, I would like to include them. I may also highlight portions of the resource text to use in my final product. This is similar to the decisions I made regarding the number of photos I would use and details of my collage background. In both cases, I had to have some idea of what I wanted my result to be, and I needed to be flexible to have the best final product. Next, when writing, I begin putting my words onto a paper or screen, much like how I started placing my images on my collage background. Also, just as I revised my college as I worked, I edit the words, I put on the paper of screen. I may choose to reword a full sentence or change an individual word in favor of a synonym. As I type or write my plan for my final product may vary, however, once I feel I have reached my desired result, I will proofread and edit it, similar to how I took time to step back and review and edit my completed photo college before printing and displaying it. Once I finish composing a text, I will “display” it in some way, either submitting it for a professor or classmate to view or publishing it on the internet for the public to view, just as I displayed my photo collage for myself and others to see. After completing this experiment, I agree with Palmeri that there are similarities between composing a text and composing a work of art. I also have a better understanding of the benefits of teachers of writing to experience composing with different modalities, including fine arts, to gain insight into invention and revision.
Palmeri, Jason. “Composition Has Always Already Been Multimodal.” Remixing Composition: A History of Multimodal Writing Pedagogy. Southern Illinois University Press, 2012, pp. 21-50.
In this week’s reading McCorkle stated: “Paper decreased substantially in cost, making it economically feasible for people to write more, to use writing freely as a medium of expression, to discard drafts and revise more extensively” (Kindle Locations 1406-1407). The first thing that came to my mind after reading this passage was, “Why was paper expensive in the first place?” I had heard before this reading that paper was expensive at one time, but I have never understood why. Of course, today it is one of the many things we take for granted. We receive piles and piles of junk mail every year, we sign 20-page contracts and print out whole books. We think nothing of using paper. We can get an entire case for under twenty dollars. So, what made paper so expensive in the past, when things were generally cheaper than today?
Researching the history of paper proved more challenging than I would have originally thought possible. However, after adjusting my search several times, I finally found an article through Purdue University by AJ Valente, President of Paper Antiquities, which focused on the changes of print paper during the 19th century- the exact period McCorkle was referring to in the passage that began my quest.
In reading this article, I learned that the first paper made in American was produced using linen rags and that this had been the process for more than five hundred years. It was not until after the Revolutionary War that cotton was added to linen to make paper. Valente explained that “Paper-makers soon found that a composite linen-cotton pulp worked very well, and so for the first time in living memory the price of paper actually fell. With the wove mould, paper-makers could use an entirely cotton-based pulp since the mould captured cotton fibers much more readily, thus the cost of book paper also fell significantly. Still, the production of book and writing paper remained limited by the number of working vats in the country, and in 1800, that number was around one hundred” (Valente 3). Following this discovery, the price of paper continued to fall. The machines used to produce paper continued to advance as well as the methods.
In 1827 a farmer discovered by accident that straw could be used to make paper. He took his discovery to a local paper mill owned by John Shyrock, who mixed the straw with rags to create paper. Shyrock also experimented with other crops and discovered that rye, wheat, and straw made the best paper. He used this new knowledge to make newsprint, but the rising cost of rags led to the straw paper being abandoned. Later, after the paper industry was struck by the Panic of 1837, one paper mill in New England began to experiment with refuse from fishing fleets. They learned that paper could be made using old manila rope, rag-bale ropes, hemp sails, canvas sheets, as well as other otherwise wasted materials. This manila paper was discolored and could not be bleached, but was soon produced by other mills. Valente describes that thirteen years later, “Bogus manila” was made of 20% straw and 80% hemp or burlap, with a bit of cotton thrown in for texture. The popularity of bogus manila
rapidly caught on, and the bleach boiler, as it was now called, soon became a standard in the industry” (Valente 5). Shortly after, due to the availability of cheap paper, the demand for books exploded, increasing the literacy of the population. By the 1860s dime novels were available as well as libraries.
Therefore, paper was expensive because it was made of linen. While the price of paper dropped as new materials and methods were discovered, it was not until it was made using straw and fishing fleet refuge that it became exceptionally affordable. With this discovery, literacy boomed due to the availability of accessible and cheap books. Thought the years the price of paper has risen and fallen, mostly due to supply and demand. However, as production processes and materials continued to change the price continued to drop, giving us the paper and costs we are accustomed to today.
Ben McCorkle. “Rhetorical Delivery as Technological Discourse: A Cross-Historical Study” (Kindle Location 1407). Kindle Edition.
Valente, AJ. “Changes in Print Paper During the 19th Century.” Purdue University Purdue e-Pubs, Charleston Library Conference, 2010, docs.lib.purdue.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1124&context=charleston.
In “From Pencils to Pixels: The Stages of Literacy Technologies,” Dennis Baron gives a short history of writing and writing technologies. He says, “The development of writing itself illustrates the stages of technological spread. We normally assume that writing was invented to transcribe speech, but that is not strictly correct. The earliest Sumerian inscriptions, dating from ca. 3500 BCE, record not conversations, incantations, or other sorts of oral utterances, but land sales, business transactions, and tax accounts” (Baron 74). The origin of writing was an interesting topic to me, so after reading Baron’s short account of it, I decided to research it further. I had always assumed that writing began for communicative or recording purposes. To learn that instead, it started to conduct business transactions was surprising, to say the least. I was also surprised to learn that writing dated back so far in history.
During my research, I found an Archaeological Institute of America article that went into a more in-depth explanation of the Sumerian inscriptions Baron mentioned in his work. According to this article, the inscriptions were wedge-shaped writing on clay tablets, known as cuneiform. It goes on to explain that, “Cuneiform writing was created by using a reed stylus to make wedge-shaped indentations in clay tablets” and was used, as Baron said, for business transactions. Cuneiform was script, rather than a language, and was used by many cultures. The article explains that “Different combinations of these marks represented syllables, which could in turn be put together to form words” (The World’s Oldest Writing). This form of writing was used for 3,000 years before being replaced by alphabetic writing. It was then forgotten for around 2,000 years at which time archeologists unearthed the tablets and began to study them.
Of course, the excavated tablets needed to be translated to be read. To do this, scholars used a trilingual inscription at the site of Bisitun Pass in Iran which dated back to around 500 B.C. This inscription recorded the achievements of the fourth Persian king of the Achaemenid Empire, Darius the Great in three different languages Persian, Akkadian, and Elamite (an Iranian language). The article explains that, “By deciphering repetitive words such as “Darius” and “king” in Persian, scholars were able to slowly piece together how cuneiform worked” (The World’s Oldest Writing). This allowed them to begin deciphering other tablets, but some more ancient ones have yet to be translated, and likely never will be.
Baron was correct when he said, “The development of writing itself illustrates the stages of technological spread” (Baron 74). It is truly amazing how far the technology of writing has come since it’s beginning. What began almost 6,000 years ago as wedged-shaped indentions in clay tablets for the purpose of conducting business transactions has evolved into typing on a keyboard or touchscreen for a plethora of reasons. Despite how far writing technologies have come, they will continue to advance as times goes on. In another 6,000 years, the world may find our writing technologies a primitive and undecipherable as cuneiform.
Plato worried that writing would destroy our memories and make knowledge dangerous. In some ways, he was right; in others, he was wrong. Writing things down preserves it for generations to come. It also helps to spread knowledge. On the other hand, it does make it possible for knowledge to fall into the wrong hands. Also, due to the evolution of writing from ancient times to today, we have extensive knowledge at our fingertips, and we are not required to remember many things because we can find almost anything we need with the touch of a button. Therefore, many of Plato’s fears have become a reality. Ancient writing was less of a risk to the memories of the people of the time because it was less available, and reading was done in groups rather than individually. “The ancient reader’s success in finding a reasonably appropriate meaning in the text acted as the final control that the task of separation has been accurately performed” (Eisenstein, 7). Ancient texts were not easy to read because of their format. There was no spacing and reading required decoding. The human brain can compensate for these requirements and adjusted by eye tracking. However, the usefulness of the written words was dependent on the reader’s interpretation and decoding of the writing, making it somewhat dangerous, but also potentially useless. During Medieval times, when writing formats began to shift, written word became more useful and perhaps more dangerous. Thanks to the printing press written word became more widespread, and individuals began to have access to more information. The format of writing became easier to read; changes included grammar, word order, and spaces. Kate Destin describes this by saying, “The evolution of human culture has been made possible by the evolution of human languages” (Distin). The evolution of writing is such an evolution in culture and language. This evolution in writing has led to our modern written language, including digital media. While each evolution has made reading easier and more accessible, it has also brought some of Plato’s fears to reality. Knowledge and stories have been preserved for future generations, but knowledge has also fallen into the wrong hands due to accessibility. We also no longer strive to remember “trivial” information. As Destin says in her article for Psychology Today, “Writing does not help our brains to remember information. It remembers the information for us, making it available to our brains when we wish to be reminded of it” (Distin). Writing is a double-edged sword. It does make the need to remember things obsolete and therefore is detrimental to memory. However, it also preserves information for future generations. It does make information more accessible, but it also makes it possible for knowledge to fall into the wrong hands. These risks have come with time. Ancient writing was not as risky as modern writing has become. Changes in the format of written word and technology, such as the printing press and digital media, made the fears of Plato a reality.
Eisenstein, Elizabeth L. “Some Features of Print Culture.” In The Printing Revolution in Early Modern Europe. 2nd Ed, Cambridge University Press, 2012, pp. 46-101