Computers, now the writer's tool of choice, are still blamed by skeptics
for a variety of ills, from speeding writing up to the point of
recklessness, to complicating or trivializing the writing process, to
destroying the English language itself.
"A Better Pencil" puts our complex, still-evolving hate-love relationship
with computers and the internet into perspective, describing how the
digital evolution influences our reading and writing practices, and how the
latest technologies differ from what came before. The book explores our use
of computers as writing tools in light of the history of communication
technology, a history of how we love, fear, and actually use our writing
technologies--not just computers, but also typewriters, pencils, and clay
tablets. Dennis Baron shows that virtually all writing implements--and even
writing itself--were greeted at first with anxiety and outrage: the
printing press disrupted the "almost spiritual connection" between the
writer and the page; the typewriter was "impersonal and noisy" and would
"destroy the art of handwriting." Both pencils and computers were created
for tasks that had nothing to do with writing. Pencils, crafted by
woodworkers for marking up their boards, were quickly repurposed by writers
and artists. The computer crunched numbers, not words, until writers saw it
as the next writing machine. Baron also explores the new genres that the
computer has launched: email, the instant message, the web page, the blog,
social-networking pages like MySpace and Facebook, and communally-generated
texts like Wikipedia and the Urban Dictionary, not to mention YouTube.
Here then is a fascinating history of our tangled dealings with a wide
range of writing instruments, from ancient papyrus to the modern laptop.
With dozens of illustrations and many colorful anecdotes, the book will
enthrall anyone interested in language, literacy, or writing.