From Nietzsche’s Writing Ball, to Stephen King’s typewriter, to Steve Jobs’ Macintosh and iPhone, technology has changed the way we write.
Describes Matthew Kirschenbaum in The New Republic:
“Our writing instruments are also working on our thoughts.” Nietzsche wrote, or more precisely typed, this sentence on a Malling-Hansen Writing Ball, a wondrous strange contraption that looks a little like a koosh ball cast in brass and studded with typewriter keys. Depressing a key plunged a lever with the typeface downward onto the paper clutched in the underbelly.
It’s well-known that Nietzsche acquired the Writing Ball to compensate for his failing eyesight. Working by touch, he used it to compose terse, aphoristic phrasings exactly like that oft-quoted pronouncement. Our writing instruments, he suggested, are not just conveniences or contrivances for the expression of ideas; they actively shape the limits and expanse of what we have to say. Not only do we write differently with a fountain pen than with a crayon because they each feel different in our hands, we write (and think) different kinds of things.
I like to believe that my best writing appears in long-form first. Writing by hand produces this magical experience of disfluency, where the brain moves swiftly with the pen in synchronicity.
Writing on the computer, on the other hand, tends to make me overtype and therefore edit most of my words. However, I have noticed that drafting a note on the phone with one hand typically produces something more thoughtful than typing two-handed on
Whether we write with a digital device, pen, or pencil “we become what we behold,” Marshall McLuhan reminds us, “We shape our tools and then our tools shape us.”
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