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.