I signed up for Digital Writing Month with the knowledge that I was unlikely to reach the 50,000 word goal. In my more romantic moments I have imagined that I would one day write a book–not an academic work, but something of fiction. Or, as most books tend to be, something narcissistic and autobiographical (because what, of everything in the world, can I possibly know better than myself?). One day, I think I will write the story of my grandfather, whom I love more than anything.
Today, however, I am looking for some answers among mundanity. And recently I have, honestly, felt the weight of this mundanity behind my eyes and in my back. In my research for a literature review about digital literacy and digital writing, I’ve encountered, among other things:
- an academic article (published after 2010) which refers to Second Life and Geocities as technologies which undergraduates actually use.
- a dissertation which includes a glossary of IM-speak, emoticons, and abbreviations (also published after 2010).
- an overwhelming number of claims that undergraduates primarily use Google and Wikipedia for academic research.
I’ve also begun to compile a list of words and phrases I never want to see or hear again in my life. These include (along with their variants): digital literacy (yup), media literacy, digital citizenship, netizens, digital natives, millennials, stakeholders, digital world, digital age, digital divide, lifelong learning, “analog” as an antonym for “digital,” “a wide variety,” and “actively participate.” I also detest the excessive use of passive voice in academic prose, the phrase “as it refers to,” and anything that doesn’t have a datestamp. Furthermore, I would recommend some more stringent proof-reading and editing for most of these authors.
Those are my idiosyncratic gripes with much of the literature. Though admittedly, not all of them are so idiosyncratic and I’m sure many share my misgivings. Aside from these peeves, this research has illuminated some larger questions for me which I believe have been with me in some form or other since I was in library school.
When people talk about digital literacy and digital writing, what do they mean? Many individuals and groups have attempted to define digital literacy, but the concept is appropriately nebulous and protean. Digital writing, to me at least, seems more straightforward–but perhaps this is why Marylhurst University started Digital Writing Month. If the dichotomy (if there even is ever such a binary thing) is between digital writing and pen-and-paper stuff, then doesn’t almost everyone privileged enough to participate in Digital Writing Month already do almost all of their writing digitally? Except the occasional post-it note, grocery list, or sentimentally archaic postcard to a lover or friend? And these hand-written ephemera are unique only for their tangibility. In fact, being in an admittedly romantic mindset (heartset?) of late, I’ve taken to writing by hand in a tiny notebook purchased for the sole purpose of containing embarrassing things which nobody should ever have to hear from me. This, to me, is novel and has encouraged more thought than any digital writing I do.
I realize that I am being overly simplistic in my analysis of digital writing. Digital writing is so many more things than just writing using information technology as a tool. It’s about collaboration and challenging our notions of academic (or non-academic) writing. It’s about the author not only being dead but haunting us. It’s about finding what works for you and running with it. It’s a paradigm shift. And that, in part, is what Digital Writing Month is helping us discover.
Where is the space for this writing in our classrooms and our academic libraries? Can we tweet our term papers? What emphasis do we place on grammar, style, and citation? I’m sorry–another one of my pet peeves is the use of rhetorical questions in writing. Though these questions aren’t exactly rhetorical. I just don’t know the answers. The prescriptivist in me grieves for the old school. I want someone to teach our youth about subject-verb agreement, comma splices, transitions, the seamless integration of quotations into prose. I worry that placing an emphasis on digital writing in the classroom may be missing the point entirely. But perhaps the point I have in mind is the wrong one. Students need to know how to do solid research and how to write well. To be honest, I don’t believe that most of them are learning these skills in the first place and that digital writing is a way of pardoning their many and sometimes egregious scholarly transgressions.
Those are the issues this digital writing research and digital writing month have me considering. And I feel at once like a privileged & conceited academic and a jaded critic of that academy.