Paper is outdated.

Paper is:
•   Static.
•   Linear.
•   Finite.
•   Singular.

Digital Writing is:

•    Dynamic.
•    Multi-dimensional.
•    Infinite.
•    Pluralistic.

With these things in mind, all writing should be:
•    Infinitely editable
•    Inherently clickable
•    Continually discussed
•    Focused on revisions and the history of revisions.

Dave Cormier turned me on to the idea that we are still writing for the technology of paper, even if we have moved beyond it in terms of its capabilities. I found intriguing and more than a little frustrating to think that we are still formatting our ideas to be read in a linear and static text form. We have put so much investment as a society in the technology of paper that very few people are ready or able to move past it. Yet, in order to fulfill the potential of a fully connected society, we must start to think in new ways, read in new ways, and especially write in new ways.

First, the idea of ownership must be changed. All writing should have the ability to be edited at any time. Just by clicking on the letters, you should be able to add your own piece of understanding. Anyone should be able to see the original iteration, but they should also be able to see any additions, subtractions, contextualizations, or expansions. This is the only way to have true collaboration. If we stop setting up boundaries for ideas—yours vs. mine—we will all become better writers and visionaries.

All words should blue and underlined; they must be clickable. There is no reason for a story, a poem, an essay, a blog entry, a novel, a biography or even a letter to lack context. Each word should take us to someplace new. Each word should let us explore the web of thought that caused it. Now, if one person were trying to accomplish this, it would never happen for want of a real life. Yet, if each user can add his or her own contextual links, the writing context would grow, the webs of knowledge would spin themselves, and reading and writing would change forever.

If there is anything that blogs have taught us it is that writing should not exist in a vacuum. Ideas that are not read and discussed are of no value. So, logically, we should share all of our writing, discussing each aspect of our discourse and getting instant feedback on our vital work. Comments focus us upon revision, but they shouldn’t be at the bottom of the page. They should be attached to the words, never separated from the context of the ideas. Paper doesn’t allow us to hyperlink our comments, connecting them to the words that made us think of the comments in the first place, but digital writing can allow this if we can move beyond our vision of the internet as Digital Paper.

Digital Paper does not allow us to push writing to what it can become. It limits us to think of writing as a singular and static process. Things like Google Documents are great resources, but they lack the pervasive nature that digital writing needs to have. The entire Internet should be editable, discussable, and clickable. Only then will we be able to shrug off our dependence upon paper as a substance and a metaphor.


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  2. Ha. You know what we need… we need to continue this conversation in a way that tests out the possibilities of digital writing.

    Couple of comments – all words ARE blue and underlined (conceptually). Every word we use in speech or in text automatically hops around the brain of the listener looking for context. In the pre digital age we had to decide on a specific audience before writing and write to it. If I’m writing about building a front step to my house i decide first whether my audience would need help with the names of the tools. If they do, i write a certain way, if they don’t i write another. Reading was a process of either filling in contexts with dictionaries and other reading or choosing books based on them matching you as an audience.

    Digital writing changes that. We can appeal to multiple audiences with proper constructions. multi-level (or different learning styles if you like that language) classes can now be less frustrating because it can be prepared to both appeal to different levels and, with feedback can shape itself into the text it NEEDS to be, rather than what i needed it to be.

    Great post. more later on my blog i think. cheers. dave.

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