Academic and practitioner journals in fields from electronics to business to language studies, as well as the popular press, have for over a decade been proclaiming the arrival of the "computer revolution" and making far-reaching claims about the impact of computers on modern western culture. Implicit in many arguments about the revolutionary power of computers is the assumption that communication, language, and words are intimately tied to culture -- that the computer's transformation of communication means a transformation, a revolutionizing, of culture.
Moving from a vague sense that writing is profoundly different with different material and technological tools to an understanding of how such tools can and will change writing, writers, written forms, and writing's functions is not a simple matter. Further, the question of whether -- and how -- changes in individual writers' experiences with new technologies translate into large-scale, cultural "revolutions" remains unresolved.
This book is about the relationship of writing to its technologies. It uses history, theory and empirical research to argue that the effects of computer technologies on literacy are complex, always incomplete, and far from unitary -- despite a great deal of popular and even scholarly discourse about the inevitability of the computer revolution. The author argues that just as computers impact on discourse, discourse itself impacts technology and explains how technology is used in educational settings and beyond.
The opening chapters argue that the relationship between writing and the material world is both inextricable and profound. Through writing, the physical, time-and-space world of tools and artifacts is joined to the symbolic world of language. The materiality of writing is both the central fact of literacy and its central puzzle -- a puzzle the author calls "The Technology Question" -- that asks: What does it mean for language to become material? and What is the effect of writing and other material literacy technologies on human thinking and human culture? The author also argues for an interdisciplinary approach to the technology question and lays out some of the tenets and goals of technology studies and its approach to literacy.
The central chapters examine the relationship between writing and technology systematically, and take up the challenge of accounting for how writing -- defined as both a cognitive process and a cultural practice -- is tied to the material technologies that support and constrain it. Haas uses a wealth of methodologies including interviews, examination of writers' physical interactions with texts, think-aloud protocols, rhetorical analysis of discourse about technology, quasi-experimental studies of reading and writing, participant-observer studies of technology development, feature analysis of computer systems, and discourse analysis of written artifacts. Taken as a whole, the results of these studies paint a rich picture of material technologies shaping the activity of writing and discourse, in turn, shaping the development and use of technology.
The book concludes with a detailed look at the history of literacy technologies and a theoretical exploration of the relationship between material tools and mental activity. The author argues that seeing writing as an embodied practice -- a practice based in culture, in mind, and in body -- can help to answer the "technology question." Indeed, the notion of embodiment can provide a necessary corrective to accounts of writing that emphasize the cultural at the expense of the cognitive, or that focus on writing as only an act of mind. Questions of technology, always and inescapably return to the material, embodied reality of literate practice. Further, because technologies are at once tools for individual use and culturally-constructed systems, the study of technology can provide a fertile site in which to examine the larger issue of the relationship of culture and cognition.
"The author suggests that writing and technology constitute one another in a symbiotic relation, and the book is a powerful attempt to analyse this complex relationship."
—The National Literacy Trust's Guide to books on literacy published during 1995
An adequate theory of literacy, to be useful to all interested professionals, must itself be flexible enough to encompass the dynamic relationship between technology and literacy: multidirectional, multilayered, and composed of ever-changing agendas.
—Technical Communication, First Quarter 1997
"…Haas give us a clear view of how we might develop a more complicated approach to technology. Haas' book is replete with methods, scenarios, and examples of what it means for a discipline to think through technology."
"This is an absorbing book which addresses an issue of interest to a wide range of disciplines….This book will interest everybody concerned with understanding and theorizing the process of historical and cultural change in literate behaviours and offers researchers a sound model of research in the area of developing literacy competence."
—School Psychology International
"Recent years have seen countless studies and articles on the effects of word processing and computer technologies on writing and learning to write. Many of these articles have focused on narrow empirical questions concerning whether or not and how word processing helps students write and learn to write. What has been missing and what this proposal promises is a broad but focused cultural analysis of computer technologies. Prof. Haas' research makes salutary, ingenious use of Vygotsky's conceptual apparatus concerning thought and language to enlighten current deliberations of computer technologies and their effects on literacy development. Her project will be important to discourse theorists, educational researchers, and teachers of writing."
University of Wisconsin-Madison
"A stimulating exploration of the problems and possibilities for writing raised by new computer technologies….Writing Technology is an important study of the complex and changing relations among literacy, technology, and culturally situated cognition."
The University of Texas at Austin
"…an excellent contribution to the studies of computers and to the field of technology studies in general….Starting with the 'technology question,' the book presents a well-supported argument whose implications extend well beyond simple accounts of writing tools. It should be read by anyone interested in writing, literacy, or technology studies."
University of Illinois
Contents: Preface. Part I: Writing in the Material World. The Technology Question. Technology Studies. Part II: The Role of Technology in the Cognition of Literacy. Reading On-Line. Materiality and Thinking: The Effects of Computer Technology on Writers' Planning. Text Sense and Writers' Materially Based Representations of Text. Part III: The Social and Cultural Construction of Literacy Tools. Social Dynamics, or Scientific Truth, or Sheer Human Cussedness: Design Decisions in the Evolution of a User Interface. Constructing Technology Through Discourse with Ann George. Part IV: Conclusions and Future Inquiry. Historicizing Technology. Theorizing Technology.