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A Better Pencil: context for the digital revolution

A Better PencilI’m going to have to get a copy of this book, written by Dennis Baron, English and linguistics prof at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. The book attempts to put the digital revolution into context, according to the publisher’s description: “A Better Pencil puts our complex, still-evolving hate-love relationship with computers and the internet into perspective, describing how the digital revolution influences our reading and writing practices, and how the latest technologies differ from what came before.”

Salon has an interview with Baron, which you may want to check out. They even covered the topic, which has been on my mind of late, to whit: how are writers going to make a living in the digital world, and Baron added context to that too:

I think historically, professional writing is a relatively modern concept, and writers had to have independent incomes for most of history in order to be writers. They’ve had to have patrons. They’ve had to have day jobs. So what else is new? Most fiction writers don’t make a living from their fiction. A few do, but most of them have to get teaching jobs or some other kind of job to pay the bills. The economical model for publication is changing, but how it is changing and whether it is good or bad or simply inevitable, I can’t say.

BoingBoing clips the quote about how Plato was so upset about how writing was going to destroy our ability to remember things, which is a fine example of how new communications technologies are always resisted by some, embraced by others. Not that Plato was wrong. I’ve been joking that my iPhone is my new “brain extension” but it’s not really a joke. It’s true. It gives me access to all kinds of bits of information that before, I would have to keep in my head, or write down on bits of paper; now it’s there at my fingertips — assuming I can get a connection to the net.

And that I can remember how to work it.

A Better Pencil (Oxford University Press) | Salon article: Is the Internet melting our brains? | via

One Comment

  1. John Sloan John Sloan

    “professional writing is a relatively modern concept” so is the idea of paying peasant workers for their labor.

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