Week 3.1 Reading – Writing Space by Jay David Bolter

This week’s reading Writing Space by Jay David Bolter is focused on ‘The Computer, Hypertext and the history of Writing’.

As one would expect, there is an enormous body of literature on the history and development of writing. Bolter starts off by talking about writing as technology and how writing has become the preserver and extender of other technologies, as an advanced culture develops a technical literature.

“Writing is and has always been a sophisticated technology: skill is required to learn and write, and penetrating intelligence is needed to invent or improve some aspect of the technology of literacy”

To summarize some of Bolter’s main points briefly: writing was invented around 3400 b.c.; it was invented independently only twice (or perhaps three times), once in Mesopotamia and once in Mesoamerica (it was possibly also invented in China, although the possibility that writing was transmitted along trade routes from Mesopotamia to China cannot be ruled out); and all alphabets are somehow related to the Greek alphabet.

From the start of the modern means of book production in the fifteenth century through printing press to the introduction of electronic technology. How computers has in turn changed the technology of writing by adding new flexibility to the rapidity and efficiency of printing.

“The computer allows a writer or reader to change a text as easily as he or she duplicates it”

The capacity to adjust the text to each user’s needs is unmechanical, uncharacteristic of the classic industrial machine, and this capacity derives from the unmechanical materials of electronic technology.

“ If the printing press is the classic writing machine, the computer provides us with a technology of writing beyond mechanization”.

Bolter then moves on to elaborate on the economies of writing in different parts of the world. How the techniques, materials and uses have evolved, expand and at times even deteriorated.

At the end of the reading, Bolter explains what hard and soft structure is as well as electronic structure and how to make sense of texts in the visual space.