How are writing spaces changing?

“Seen any papyrus scrolls lately? . . . No? Guess why not? They used to be the very latest form of text, totally en vogue. The most literate people used them. But guess what? The scroll was supplanted—totally obliterated and replaced by a new kind of text: the medieval codex . . . . Been to the local library lately? Seen any codices? No? Why not? Because a new technology came along that made the codex totally and utterly obsolete. Yes, Gutenberg’s printing press and Gutenberg’s book created a completely new kind of writing space—one that was more efficient and effective. So the codex became history. And the scribes? They became obsolete, too! Do you want that to happen to you—or to your students?" (Wilhelm, 2000, pp. 5-6).


Writing spaces are changing . . . again. The invention of the printing press made the mass reproduction of texts physically possible and eventually put the power of knowledge (which had formerly been wielded by clergy and the nobility) into the hands of ordinary people. When the typewriter entered the picture, it legitimized the voices of individual citizens, thereby redistributing the authority inherent in authorship. Nearly 100 years later, the personal computer gave consumers direct access to processing power that had formerly only been available to a privileged few. This made it possible for individuals (as opposed to businesses, government, industry, or organizations) to analyze large quantities of information, store the results, and combine texts in new ways that increased personal autonomy and productivity, and empowered consumers to become creators. E-mail made it easy to exchange information about the products people were creating, and when the public gained access to the World Wide Web, networks of people were suddenly able to share information with people outside their immediate social circles. This expanded the influence of individuals and facilitated innovation on a much larger scale than ever before. These new writing spaces have continued to evolve at a rapid rate. Graphic interfaces that allow for the incorporation of multimedia content have heightened interest in online content, and the advent of social technologies with point-and-click editing has made engagement in online communities increasingly more accessible to members of the general public with limited technology skills.

Figure 1. The Accelerated Pace of Technological Change

The pace of these changes has also been steadily increasing (see Figure 1). People had been using codices for over 1,000 years before the printing press was invented. It took close to an additional 400 years for the typewriter to come along. Another century passed before the creation of the personal computer, yet the World Wide Web came along less than 20 years after that. Wikipedia (one of the most famous wikis) was launched only 8 years later, and since its birth, the trend toward convergence in emerging technologies has given us everything from multimedia iPods, the Blackberry (which functions as a cell phone, digital camera, digital voice recorder, internet browser, modem, and PDA all in one), and smart phones, to networked videogames and mobile computing. Innovations that integrate these technologies with the environment itself, such as environmentally responsive textiles (Wingfield & Gmachl, 2002), surface computing (Buchanan & Chen, 2007), and wearable computing (Kharif, 2005), are also already well underway.

As people become more adept at working in these multimedia, multidimensional, geographically distributed spaces, and as the mobile web becomes more functional through innovations such as mobile wikis (Simmonet, 2004), it is likely that the use of these technologies will become even more ubiquitous. Mobile computing will play an increasingly central role in business (Brown, 2007), education (Low & O'Connell, 2006; Luckin, du Boulay, & Smith, et al., 2005; Selwyn, 2003), entertainment ( Wei, 2008), government (Al-Khamayseh, Lawrence, & Zmijewska, 2006; Borucki, Arat, & Kushchu, 2005; Chiu, Hong, Cheung, & Kafeza, 2007), and publishing (Associated Press, 2005). So what does this mean?


Historically, extant writing technologies were either completely replaced or deeply transformed as emerging technologies made more efficient, effective ways of writing and communicating possible. Each successive iteration also increased public access to formerly restricted or unavailable facets of technology, redistributing the power to create, record, reproduce, and disseminate information in ways that generated in shifts in privilege and authority. These changes often created a stronger political voice for individuals, along with the potential for increased socioeconomic benefits. Wikis represent yet another iteration in this pattern of transformation--both technologically and socioculturally, and are likely to create similar disruptions in the ways people think, work, and learn.


Scholarly References

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Simmonet, Jean Noel. (2004, December 2). TWiki success story of Michelin China. Twiki. Retrieved March 2007, from http://twiki.org/cgi-bin/view/Main/TWikiSuccessStoryOfMichelinChina

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Kendall, Cindy. (2007, November). Timeline of writing spaces through time. Retrieved March 12, 2008, from http://actfl-wonderfulwikis.wikispaces.com/Agenda Used with permission.

Kosmopolitat. (2005, January 27). Sholes & Glidden Typewriter. Wikimedia Commons. Retrieved November 17, 2007, from http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/Image:S%26g1.jpg Used under a GNU Free Documentation License, Version 1.2.

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