From Pencils to Pixels: The Stages of Literacy Technologies. Dennis Baron. This article contained some interesting facts about the origins of. In “From Pencils to Pixels: The Stages of Literacy Technologies,” Dennis Baron attempts to explain the histories of writing technologies. Baron, Dennis. (). From pencils to pixels: The stages of literacy technologies . In Gail E. Hawisher & Cynthia L. Selfe (Eds.), Passions.

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From Pencils to Pixels: The Stages of Literacy Technology. The computer, the latest development in writing technology, promises, or threatens, to change literacy practices for better or worse, depending on your point of view. For many of us, the computer revolution came long ago, and it has left its mark on the way we do things with words.

We take word processing as a given. Computerspeak enters ordinary English at a rapid pace. The computer is also touted as a gateway to literacy. The Speaker of the House of Representatives suggested that inner-city school children should try laptops to improve their performance.

The Governor of Illinois thinks that hooking up every school classroom to the Web will eliminate illiteracy. In his second-term victory speech, President Clinton promised to have every eight-year-old reading, and to connect every twelve-year-old to the National Information Infrastructure. Futurologists write books predicting that computers will replace books.

Newspapers rush to hook on-line subscribers. The New York Times will download the Sunday crossword, time me as I fill in the answers from my keyboard, even score my results. I readily admit my dependence on the new technology of writing. Once, called away to a meeting whose substance did not command my unalloyed attention, I began drafting on my conference pad a memo I needed to get out to my staff by lunchtime.

I found that I had become so used to composing virtual prose at the keyboard I could no longer draft anything coherent directly onto a piece of paper. When we write with cutting-edge tools, it is easy to forget that whether it consists of energized particles on a screen or ink embedded in paper or lines gouged into clay tablets, writing itself is always first and foremost a technology, a way of engineering materials in order to accomplish an end.

Tied up as it is with value-laden notions of literacy, art, and science, of history and psychology, of education, of theory, and of practicality, we often lose sight of writing as technology, until, that is, a new technology like the computer comes along and we are thrown into excitement and confusion as we try it on, try it out, reject it, and then adapt it to our lives—and of course, adapt our lives to it.

New communications technologies, if they catch on, go through a number of strikingly similar stages. After their invention, their spread depends on accessibility, function, and authentication.

Pencils to Pixels Source Analysis by on Prezi

The Stages of Literacy Technologies. Each new literacy technology begins with a restricted communications function and is available only to a small number of initiates. Because of the high cost of the technology and general ignorance about it, dennjs keep it to themselves at first — either on purpose or because nobody else has any use for it — and then, gradually, they begin to mediate the technology for the general public. As costs decrease pencis the technology becomes better able to pixxels more ordinary or familiar communications, a new literacy spreads across a population.

Only then does the technology come into its own, no longer imitating the previous forms given us by the earlier communications technology but creating new forms and new possibilities for communication.

Moreover, in a kind of backward wave, the new technology begins to affect older technologies as well. While brave new literacy technologies offer new opportunities for producing and manipulating text, they also present new opportunities for fraud. And as the technology spreads, so pecils reactions against it from supporters of what are purported to be older, simpler, better, or more honest ways of writing.

Not only must the new technology be accessible and useful, it must demonstrate its trustworthiness as well. So procedures for authentication and reliability must be developed before the new technology becomes fully accepted. One of the greatest concerns about computer pixelx today involves their authentication, and their potential for fraud.


My contention in this essay is a modest one: In many ways its development parallels that of the pencil — hence my title — though the computer seems more complex and is undoubtedly more expensive. The authenticity of pencil writing is still frequently questioned: We have nothing against universities or scholars as such. All the university people whom we have attacked have been crom in technical fields We would not want anyone to think that we have any desire to hurt professors who study archaeology, history, literature or harmless stuff like that.

But to my chagrin he excluded humanists from his list of sinister technocrats because he found them to be harmless. While I was glad not to be a direct target of this mad bomber, Ftom admit that I felt dennie out. But I was afraid to say anything out loud, at least until a plausible suspect was in custody.

Dennis Baron’s “From Pencils to Pixels: The Stages of Literacy Technologies”

Humanists have long been considered out of the technology loop. They use technology, to be sure, but they are not generally seen as pushing the envelope. Most people think of writers as rejecting technological innovations like the computer and the information superhighway, preferring instead to bang away at manual typewriters when they are not busy whittling new points on their no.

And it is true that some well-known writers have rejected new-fangleness. Writing in the New York Times, Bill Henderson reminds us that in Henry David Thoreau disparaged the information superhighway of his day, a telegraph connection from Maine to Texas. Apparently Samuel Morse, the developer of the telegraph, was lucky that the only letter bombs Thoreau made were literary ones. In any case, Thoreau was not the complete Luddite that Henderson would have us believe.

Rather, he designed them for a living. Instead of waxing nostalgic about the good old days of hand-made pencils, Thoreau sought to improve the process by developing a cutting-edge manufacturing technology of his own. The pencil may be old, but like the computer today and the telegraph init is an indisputable example of a communications technology. The family fortune was built on the earnings of the Thoreau Pencil Company, and Henry Thoreau not only supported his sojourn at Walden Pond and his trip to the Maine woods with pencil profits, he himself perfected some of the techniques of pencil-making that made Thoreau pencils so desirable.

The pencil may seem a simple device in contrast to the computer, but although it has fewer parts, it too is an advanced technology. The engineer Henry Petroski portrays the development of the wood-cased pencil as a paradigm of the engineering process, hinging on the solution of two essential problems: Pencil technologies involve advanced design techniques, the preparation and purification of graphite, the mixing of graphite with various clays, the baking and curing of the lead mixture, its extrusion into leads, and the preparation and finishing of the wood casings.

Petroski observes that pencil making also involves a knowledge of dyes, shellacs, resins, clamps, solvents, paints, woods, rubber, glue, printing ink, waxes, lacquer, cotton, drying equipment, impregnating processes, high-temperature furnaces, abrasives, and mixing Petroski, These are no simple matters.

A hobbyist cannot decide to make a wood-cased pencil at home and go out to the craft shop for a set of instructions. Pencil-making processes were from the outset proprietary secrets as closely guarded as any Macintosh code. The development of the pencil is also a paradigm of the development of literacy. In the two hundred fifty years between its invention, in the s, and its perfection at John Thoreau and Company, as well as in the factories of Conte in France, and Staedtler and Faber in Germany, the humble wood pencil underwent several changes in form, greatly expanded its functions, and developed from a curiosity of use to cabinet-makers, artists and note-takers into a tool so universally employed for writing that we seldom give it any thought.

The Technology of Writing. Of course the first writing technology was writing itself. Just like the telegraph and the computer, writing itself was once an innovation strongly resisted by traditionalists because it was unnatural and untrustworthy.


Plato was one leading thinker who spoke out strongly against writing, fearing that it would weaken our memories. According to one school of anthropology, the invention of writing triggered a cognitive revolution in human development for a critique of this so-called Great Divide theory of writing, see Street Historians of print are fond of pointing to the invention of the printing press in Europe as the second great cognitive revolution Eisenstein The spread of electric power, the invention of radio, and later television, all promised similar bio-cultural progress.

Now, the influence of computers on more and more aspects of our existence has led futurologists to proclaim that another technological threshold is at hand. Computer gurus offer us a brave new world of communications where we will experience cognitive changes of a magnitude never before known. Of course, the Unabomber and the Lead Pencil Club think otherwise.

Both the supporters and the critics of new communication technologies like to compare them to the good, or bad, old days. Jay Bolter disparages the typewriter as nothing more than a machine for duplicating text, and as such, he argues, it has not changed writing at all. In contrast, Bolter characterizes the computer as offering a paradigm shift not seen since the invention of the printing press, or for that matter, since the invention of writing itself.

The development of writing itself illustrates the stages of technological spread. We normally assume that writing was invented to transcribe speech, but that is not strictly correct. The earliest Sumerian inscriptions, dating from ca.

Clay tokens bearing similar marks appear for several thousand years before these first inscriptions. It is often difficult to tell when we are dealing with writing and when with art the recent discovery of 10,year-old stone carvings in Syria has been touted as a possible missing link in the art-to-writing chainbut the tokens seem to have been used as a system of accounting from at least the 9th millennium BCE They are often regarded as the first examples of writing, and it is clear that they are only distantly related to actual speech see figure 1.

“From Pencils to Pixels” Summary/Response | Jamie’s Blog

Surely they walked around all day with a bunch of sharp styluses sticking out of their pocket protectors, and talked of nothing but new ways of making marks on stones.

Anyway, so far as we know, writing itself begins not as speech transcription but as a relatively restricted and obscure record-keeping shorthand. As innovative uses for the literacy technology are tried out, practitioners may also adapt it to older, more familiar forms in order to gain acceptance from a wider group.

For writing to spread into a more general population in the ancient world, it had first to gain acceptance by approximating spoken language. But even today, most written text does not transcribe spoken language: Figure 2 Script and Transcript. The common curse of mankind, folly and ignorance, be thine in great revenue! Let thy blood be thy direction till thy death! Shakespeare, Troilus and Cressida, II, iii, I do not recall a specific discussion.

It was widely known within the CIA. I mean we were tracking that sensitive intelligence. I was not engaged in it.

And one of the purposes that I thought we had that finding for was to go back and ratify that earlier action, and to get on with replenishing. I mean, that was one — what I understood one of the purposes of the draft to be. The Testimony of Lt. Of course writing never spread very greatly in the ancient world. William Harris argues convincingly that no more than ten percent of the classical Greek or Roman populations could have been literate. One reason for this must be that writing technology remained both cumbersome and expensive: Writing therefore remained exclusive, until cheap paper became available, and the printing press made mass production of written texts more affordable and less labor-intensive.

What Writing Does Differently.