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.”

Writing with a pencil

If you write with a pencil you get three different sights at it to see if the reader is getting what you want him to. First when you read it over; then when it is typed you get another chance to improve it, and again in the proof. Writing it first in pencil gives you one-third more chance to improve it. That is .333, which is a damned good average for a hitter.

Ernest Hemingway

(via The Cramped)

Creativity is a fancy version of productivity

People confuse busyness with productivity. Answering emails all day is mostly a waste of time, as is instant messaging co-workers. Doing something — typing into little boxes all day — fulfills the human desire to feel useful.

Similarly, people often perceive what artists do is an unnecessary use of time. But creativity is a fancy version of productivity.

When it comes to painting, songwriting, and any other artistic vocations, nothing gets wasted. Scraps and shitty rough drafts lead to the best answer.

Sensible work gets us paid. Yet, when we photograph everything, we look at nothing. Without propelling the imagination and putting work on the canvass, we are just waiting for the next rebound under the basketball hoop rather than looking how to score.

Information resurfaced with Readwise

The glut of information means that we need to review things more than ever.

And one of the most useful tools I’ve come across is Readwise.

Each day or weekly (up to you), it emails you a dose of your Kindle and Instapaper highlights.

Rereading through them not only reminds you of the interesting passages you once discovered, but also how that “old” information connects to your existing thinking.

According to professor Kenneth Goldsmith at the University of Pennsylvania, “an educated person in the future will be a curious person who collects better artifacts. The ability to call up and use facts is the new education. How to tap them, how to use them.”

The pennies of Instapaper or Pocket articles you collect add up over time but their meaning is in their extraction. The simple act of reviewing allows one to remix and convert previously found artifacts into forward-thinking idea-generating value.

Philip Roth on naps

“Let me tell you about the nap,” he laughs. “It’s absolutely fantastic. When I was a kid, my father was always trying to tell me how to be a man, and he said to me, I was maybe 9, and he said to me, ‘Philip, whenever you take a nap, take your clothes off, put a blanket on you, and you’re going to sleep better.’ Well, as with everything, he was right. … Then the best part of it is that when you wake up, for the first 15 seconds, you have no idea where you are. You’re just alive. That’s all you know. And it’s bliss, it’s absolute bliss.”

Philip Roth

Mind recess

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gif by Thomas Slater

Inactivity cultivates new insights.

It’s not so much as being bored than it is the value of pausing.

It’s a good thing we can’t write everything our brain says down on paper. Most of it would be jibberish.

Even when we dictate our thoughts onto the computer, we’re impeding the darts of words from overwhelming our head.

We make a lot more sense when we slow down and edit.

When it comes to writing or speaking, that little skip of disfluency creates just enough space between the mind and the mouth or the pen to produce something a bit deeper, a bit clearer, in some cases cleverer.

Even the space after a period gives us just enough of a break to our eyes.

Breathe and stop: Persistence follows the fundamental urge to rest.

Happy Bullet Journal Day!

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gif via Sharpie

If you look around Pinterest and Facebook groups, you’ll see that bullet journalling is all the rage but what most people don’t know is that Ryder Carroll is the originator of the Bullet Journal Method.

Today marks five years since Carroll introduced bulletjournal.com to the world, helping millions of people like myself organize and prioritize the right stuff in our personal and work lives in the face of the dopamine homing missiles of the distraction age.

I’m happy to share with you that he’s giving away two free chapters from his new book which comes out October 23.

You can download them for free here.

If you want to learn more about “intentional living” with the Bullet Journal Method, I encourage you to watch the video below:

No guarantees, guaranteed

full frame shot of eye

In releasing your thought debris onto the internet, two questions may hold you up:

  1. Will anyone will read it?
  2. Will anyone care?

They certainly won’t read it if you don’t post it. And two, no one will ever care as much as you. Guaranteed.

So, why wouldn’t you just drift into the freedom of expression?

Creative practice is the goal, the maker just happens to be found. Said artist Auguste Rodin, “Fame is no more than the sum of all the misunderstandings that gather around a new name.”

Use your craft as an unconscious guide, with no end in sight but a conscious apparition that tries to tame the mind.

What holds attention determines distraction

Even checked distractions will lead you to distraction. What holds attention determines distraction

This very day I have been repeating over and over to myself a verbal jingle whose mawkish silliness was the secret of its haunting power. I loathed yet could not banish it. 

What holds attention determines action.

William James, The Principles of Psychology

Was it a rhyme or a sick joke that got in the thinker’s way? What do you think James was referring to?

Fast forward to modern day distraction

Abraham Lincoln on writing

“Writing, the art of communicating thoughts to the mind, through the eye— is the great invention of the world.”

— Abraham Lincoln

‘To write is to forget. Literature is the most agreeable way of ignoring life.’

To write is to forget. Literature is the most agreeable way of ignoring life. Music soothes, the visual arts exhilarate, and the performing arts (such as acting and dance) entertain. Literature, however, retreats from life by turning it into a slumber. The other arts make no such retreat — some because they use visible and hence vital formulas, others because they live from human life itself.

This isn’t the case with literature. Literature simulates life. A novel is a story of what never was, and a play is a novel without narration. A poem is the expression of ideas or feelings in a languages that no one uses, because no one talks in verse.

Fernando Pessoa, The Book of Disquiet