How technology impacts the way people write

Nietzsche wrote on a Malling-Hansen Writing Ball // How technology impacts the way people write
How technology impacts the way people write
How technology impacts the way people write

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 a desktop.

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.”

‘Forgetting makes us happy’

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Image by Wells Baum

‘Forgetting makes us happy’ proclaimed Nietzsche. But it is in the pursuit of something better that we fail to realize the good we already have.

Look no further than at today’s barbarism. History is a gif loop; it dares to be repeated as we grow frustrated with the kindness of our cultured past.

The future thrives on the protection of ideals and ideas, even if they defy the laws of nature. Humans are inherently coercive and imperfect. But books exist to keep us honest. They remind us of the valor of doing the right thing.

Is it worth defying history and throwing in the towel to start all over again? ‘Destroy and rebuild it;’ it is the stain of bad tendencies that linger.

Never forget.

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Image by Wells Baum

Free and cheap makes you fat

Everyone loves free stuff. But free stuff makes you fat. When I was a kid growing up in Texas, every restaurant offered free refills. Naturally, my friends and I always had two sodas.

When I moved up to the Northeast, refills didn’t exist. There was always an additional cost. But this cost-constrained choice. I wasn’t going to make my parents pay for more sugar water.

Just yesterday I got my free birthday coffee at Starbucks. The barista thought I was nuts for just ordering a grande Americano. But that’s all I wanted; I didn’t want the caramel macchiato that she was trying to convince me to order.

Enough is enough. Excess, especially at low-quality, can be more harmful than healthy. This goes for food as well as information. Absorbing too many Tweets, emails, and RSS feeds can leave a mind too bloated to reason.

Money is just one barrier in influencing healthier choices. If you have to pay for it, you may reconsider how you consume. Overall, free typically does more harm than good.

“The mother of excess is not joy but joylessness.”
-Friedrich Nietzsche

Everything in balance, they say.