How Technology Changes Writing Practices
When we use the term “digital writing,” we refer to a changed writing environment—that is, to writing produced on the computer and distributed via the Internet and World Wide Web. We are not talking about the computer as a stand-alone machine for writing; although that particular technological development has indeed changed the writing process, the computer itself as a stand-alone machine is not revolutionary in the sense we mean. Rather, the dramatic change is the networked computer connected to the Internet and the World Wide Web. Connectivity allows writers to access and participate more seamlessly and instantaneously within web spaces and to distribute writing to large and widely dispersed audiences.
Many writing technologies have streamlined the writing process (the typewriter is one example), but only a few writing technologies have had truly dramatic social impact. The printing press is one; the networked computer is another. It is the networked computer, the spaces to which networked computers provide access, and the public ways in which individuals are writing that are together changing the cultural landscape. These elements, taken together, are truly revolutionary.
The revolution of connectivity is not just a network or machine revolution. It is primarily a social and cultural revolution. The way that people are using the Internet and the sheer numbers of people writing on and with the web is having significant social and cultural impact. A February 2004 Pew Internet & American Life study reported that “44% of U.S. Internet users have contributed their thoughts and their files to the online world” through posting written and visual material on web sites, contributing to newsgroups, writing in blogs, conversing in chat spaces (such as instant messaging), and via other digital means. Wireless, broadband, and satellite technologies are further expanding and accelerating the means of communicating. (For example, using your cell phone you can post a picture and a text message to the web in just a few minutes.)
Writing instruction must equip students with the tools, skills, and strategies not just to produce traditional texts using computer technology, but also to produce documents appropriate to the global and dispersed reach of the web. This change requires a large-scale shift in the rhetorical situations that we ask students to write within, the audiences we ask them to write for, the products that they produce, and the purposes of their writing.