Saturday, October 18, 2003
MarkBernstein.org
 
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Writing and Technology

A very interesting aspect of Giles Foden's recent Method and Medium (in the Guardian), on the relationship between writers and technology, is that Foden by no means sees technology as the writer's ally.

You think of fonts and hard drives, software packages and printer cartridges. Or you footle around the internet, calling it research.

All this is wrong-headed: obsessing about the technology of literary production is generally displacement activity for production itself. Like the washing-up or ironing - astonishingly satisfying when you are trying to start a book.

So Foden is no technophile: he isn't inclined to rush out an grab all the latest software. Nonetheless, he sees the importance of Tinderbox -- an unsual and sometimes formidable new program. He doesn't only pick up the obvious points, like the way Tinderbox's multiple views make it easier to reorganize as your understanding grows, or the way Tinderbox agents can help keep track of emerging patterns and connection. Foden intuitively zooms all the way to a nice point about spatial hypertext:

In some ways, Tinderbox is a little like the Copydesk/Quark Despatch system used for making up these newspaper pages: each article is both a quasi-analogue visual object on the screen and a digital file in itself. Of course, it is all digital really, but human beings aren't. Which is why this sort of programming is becoming more and more common.

Making writing concrete -- working in small, movable chunks you can pick up and hold rather than a in one long, tangled scroll -- is sometimes the most liberating aspect of Storyspace, of Tinderbox, and of weblogs.