Expanding on last week's post, I want to share what I learned from Ewan Clayton's lecture for the Type@Cooper program, "What is Text? What is Writing?" I highly recommend watching the entire talk (warning: it's an hour long, but worth it). Ewan is a calligrapher, writer and teacher who has extensive knowledge of letterforms and writing. His talk discusses the relationship between humans and writing.
Before getting into his ideas, we must define some terms. First, a document is anything that is constructed of letterforms: a stone slab carved with an inscription; a book; an email or a text message. Second, technology is a channel through which a document is created: a chisel, a fountain pen, a computer or a touchscreen phone.
My Takeaways from "What is Text? What is Writing?" by Ewan Clayton
- The way we know writing has unbound and we've yet to find a new shape for it. The recent invention of computers (and phones, and tablets) has thrown us into uncharted territory. Writing by hand is no longer the norm and we're still determining the best way to incorporate new technologies.
- We invent systems to make sense of the new documents we create. With new technology comes new documents and it takes time to establish the systems in which they will be handled.
- Writing is an ecology, not to be identified with just one technology. Our current system combines multiple sources of partial knowledge to identify the true meaning. I'll use my workspace as an example. There's a computer, with handwritten sticky notes attached; next to a file printed from our network; beside my phone; all on my desk, surrounded by my coworkers. These partial documents work together in the system I've created in order to produce a publication. (My day job is at a magazine, by the way!)
- "Writing is a somatic practice, emerging from the body and landing in the body." —Ewan Clayton. Somatic means the body and mind are two separate entities, and writing affects both. It comes from your mind, but through the channel of your body (which could be handwriting, typing, etc.). Then it lands back in the body, like reading from a screen or deciphering a handwritten letter; and you'll likely feel a stronger personal connection to the handwritten letter as opposed to a typed email.
- We shouldn't dismiss the invisible work surrounding material objects. Physically walking a piece of paper to the printer for copies involves a human who will interact with the human in the printing room. This enables both parties to read body language, hear tone of voice and solve problems quicker than if that same document had been emailed.
- When we change how a document is created, we're changing the whole system. A document is like a triangle: artifacts (context, identity), work practices (institutions, communities) and technology (tools, materials). Changing one of those sides in any way forces the system reestablish itself. That is what's happening in our world right now: new technologies are requiring new systems.
- Be weary of thinking "handwriting or typing." There are uses for both. They shouldn't be mutually exclusive. The same goes for any other future technologies: we must keep an open mind and continually reeducate ourselves on how to use new technologies for document creation.
So, handwriting is still important. Don't cast it aside in favor of typing because we still use it in our current document systems. For maximum efficiency, look at what's happening in document transactions and determine the best medium to explain the true meaning.