Digital Writing

Writing is pre-eminently the technology of cyborgsthe struggle for language and the struggle against perfect communication, against the one code that translates all meaning perfectly …

— Donna Haraway

Digital writing issues a series of challenges to (current-) traditional notions/practices of “composition” in that:

(1)  It reveals writing is never finished or complete, that there is always “something more” that remains unwritten; even a “published” digital artifact/text is open to revision and all information is potentially subject to critique.

(2)  It shatters predictable, linear, five-paragraph, (single) thesis-driven, “modes of composition,” inviting experiments with structure, style, length, and more; it exposes how there is no “correct” way to write and no format for information that possesses inherently privileged status.

(3)  It is multi-modal in that it weaves alphabetic text with images, video, sound, and various elements of design; it is therefore heavily interdisciplinary and requires drawing on information “outside” one’s home discipline.

(4)  It entails “turning out” assignments alongside “turning them in” given that the Internet opens onto worlds “outside” the classroom; students can therefore view themselves as legitimate producers/critics of information capable of socio-political in(ter)vention.

(5)  It implies that all knowledge is collaborative, problematizing humanistic theories of an “individual” self who “creates” in isolation and owns his/her ideas; it suggests all information is already citation and hence troubles obsessions with plagiarism.

As one can imagine following the provocations listed above, the student and teacher of writing alike are both radically reconceived in light of the digital. No longer does a student simply “complete” an assignment and move to the next, but rather, they continue to research and revise throughout the course and hopefully beyond it. And as they encounter new information in order to (re-)revise, students do not merely assimilate such information so as to write “about” it; they are already re-writing it from the outset. The teacher of digital writing can therefore encourage an on-going and critical relation with the information that students confront.

The teacher of digital writing can likewise prompt students to explicitly re-think what writing “is” or even if it “is” anything static at all. In other words, one should exercise caution in saying that one knows how to write or that one knows how to teach writing, for if writing is no longer confined to traditional “compositional” modes then it becomes an experiment that one can neither foresee the results of nor easily pass judgment upon. This does not mean, however, that today’s students of writing can simply turn in anything and expect gratification. To the contrary, digital writing demands more of students because they not only have to think, to invent what writing might mean, they have to deploy information and technology that is often beyond what is safe and familiar.

Finally, along similar lines, digital writing demands more of students because it invites engaging with the “outside” world rather than merely writing a paper only one or two others will read. Today’s writing teachers can require students to write so as to make an intervention in community or the world-at-large. And such in(ter)vention and collaborative interaction likewise works to prevent student ideas from remaining (safely) unchallenged or bound to the illusion that information is privately “created” in isolation.

Digital writing means writing-with-others, though it is yet un-thought what that might mean.