Too Dependent on Computers?

Dennis Baron’s “From Pencils to Pixels: The Stages of Literary Technology” struck me in its careful trace of literary technological advancements.  Particularly, his statements regarding how seemingly trivial and mundane technologies such as telephones and pencils actually had very big impacts before disappearing into obscurity after a better form of communication emerged.  Most interestingly, Baron states that “[n]ew communications technologies, if they catch on, go through a number of strikingly similar stages,” and these new innovations “spread depend[ing] on accessibility, function, and authentication” (Baron, 1).  These stages of development make sense particularly as Baron traces these with examples, including writing itself.  Today, especially in our twenty-first century, first world society, we would consider writing to be a widespread and more universal form of communication.  Something that seems to be second nature because of our extensive education in writing.  However, Baron argues that writing was and always has been a continuously innovating communication technology.  According to his stages, Baron argues that writing was initially inaccessible to the general public and reserved for a higher class of educated or wealthy people.  However, this exclusivity soon deteriorates “as costs decrease and the technology becomes better able to mimic more ordinary or familiar communications” (1).  Therefore, writing became more accessible to the general public and literacy grew with this form of communication, eventually replacing the older form of communication.  Baron traces this exact pattern with different technologies such as the pencil, the telephone, and, more important to his overall argument, the computer.

While this argument is certainly valid with the computer being another more widely accepted form of communication, the dependence on this relatively new technology raises concern.  Does our dependence on computers for writing hinder our analog skills?  A somewhat similar question was posed with our previous readings on hyper attention versus deep attention and whether the internet is rewiring our brains positively or negatively in terms of gathering and retaining knowledge.  Baron shared an anecdote about the difficulties he had handwriting a memo during a meeting, specifying that he depended on the “cut and paste” technology that a computer word processor provides.  He also talked about how early educators forbade spell checkers in fear that students would lose their ability to spell, but now teachers stress using spell check in favor of more polished and perfect papers.  Therefore, I wonder what this dependence on the troubleshooting computer does for our writing and whether it is positive or negative.  Will our society eventually become so engrossed in the ease of computer word processors that we will lose our ability to write by hand? Or is this a mere hyberbolic and paranoid assumption?  Baron specifically avoided taking an opinion on this subject within this article, but I am curious to what he actually thinks.

About Carla Aviles-Jimenez

Writing and Learning Center
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1 Response to Too Dependent on Computers?

  1. Olivia Henley says:

    I like that you mention the spell check point Baron brought up. I completely understood what he was saying while reading: I spell words wrong all the time, and I know I spell them wrong. In my notes I usually don’t mind, I sometimes use shorthand, but I always realize that I’ve spelled it wrong, and will continue to, unless prompted to fix it by a squiggly red line underneath whatever word it is. Does this mean I’m lazy, or does this mean I’ve fallen into the trap that is typing and spell-check and the “Microsoft Word” definition of writing?
    I hope that society doesn’t rid itself of handwriting, entirely. I’m paranoid as well, and also wonder whether or not there would be a major shift in school systems, not only without the notebook and pen, but with teaching how to read and write without tracing letters over and over again. My opinion is that we’re trying to shift towards computers, but we’re forgetting how essential paper and pencil are to the learning process. I feel like we’ll understand this, eventually, when the ramifications of our actions come about.

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