Digital Affordances

On my day off from teaching, I am sitting in a coffee shop revising an article for publication. I’ve got Run the Jewels bumping through my headphones that are effectively blocking out an obnoxious conversation happening at the table next to me. I need to online_classesfocus because I hate revision and I find it so easy to put it off (notice me writing this blog post). Nevertheless, I decided to write because I realized how much technology has afforded me this opportunity.

A year ago in the middle of writing my dissertation, I spoke with one of my mentors about revision. He talked about writing passages by hand and cajoling his girl friend to type the pages for him. Apparently, I made a face because he quickly reassured me that he paid her for her skill – after all, typing on a typewriter was a lot of work. He said she paid her way through college by typing papers; she was fast and accurate. She charged extra for last minute projects.

Despite his reassurances, I was still shocked. Not just because his wife typed his dissertation (all 250 pages), but because I was horrified by the idea of trying to do meaningful revision with out the word-processing power of my laptop. I peppered him with questions:

What if you hated the order of your paragraphs?  What if you disliked a quotation? What if you wanted a new topic sentence? What about transitions? What did your works cited look like? What if you spelled someone’s name wrong? How did you do research? How did you find timely sources?

Of course, people wrote differently than they do today. Many authors composed and revised by hand before sharing their work. In manuscript culture, authors often produced a fair copy of a draft before circulating works among their friends or submitting for publication. Unfortunately for people who study textual production, most our revision is invisible. We revise as we type. Our computers erase our work. Writing in a digital environment hides our effort.

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