(Hand to mechanized print)
The aesthetic shift in handcrafted text to that of printed text is of particular interest to me as a student of design. Bolter (2001) states that “each writing space is a material and visual field, whose properties are determined by a writing technology” and in this sense hand-crafted writing’s visual field is somewhat less rigid and contained. Penmanship and neatness are an important consideration for aesthetics in this particular format, however the “handwritten page offere[s] more freedom of design than the printed page” (2001). In reflection, this is entirely true for me as I have no reservations about writing in the margins, above and below lines, adding strikethroughs, notes and additions; it somehow feels less invasive. I feel as though I may ‘flit’ about this space freely and not feel constrained by any adherence to format regarding aesthetics. As a result I also feel that handwritten text for me, is more iterative in nature.
Print on the other hand “develops a far more sophisticated use of space for visual organization and effective retrieval” (Ong, 1982, p.121) and thus it’s aesthetics are more exacting, cleaner, and technical (Bolter, 2001). While this offers an increased sense of visual consistency and continuity (Ong, 1982, p.129), for me this continuity coupled with notions of authority and permanence some how makes free or messy iteration in this space less acceptable. That is to say, that as an artist I feel a visual and emotional compulsion-to-order when composing printed text. I am less inclined to disturb the now tight aesthetics by writing notes in margins, highlighting or making
strikethroughs. It feels odd to do this in a digital format and I feel compelled to get the messy stuff quickly amended for the sake of aesthetics.
I suspect that the mechanization of writing (in its appeal to sophistication) takes this compulsion to order further for me in the digital writing space. Consider for a moment word processing programs and the different types of aesthetics they offer. There is no longer a need for visible ruled lines in order to keep text organized, rather unexpected lines and visuals can ruin the continuity. Alignment and spacing is easily adjusted to increase readability and aesthetic appeal. Most interesting to me is a new phenomenon in my digital writing caused by the aesthetics of the spell-check feature. While writing in this space, if I make a spelling mistake this particular aspect of mechanization
helpfully the offending word automatically with a red dotted line. In terms of color theory, symbolism, and every day visual culture, red is a color that is often used to connote: stop, cancel, fire, anger, danger, blood, love, and war (among other things). The eye is naturally drawn to it. In terms of cognitive mental models, from a design perspective this is a colour frequently used to give pause and this particular mechanized aesthetic indeed causes me to stop writing–often mid stream–in order to correct whatever needs to be fixed. This new practice can be fairly detrimental to my writing so I often have to disable it to carry on meaningfully. Inherent in all technologies are losses and gains (O’Donnell, 1999) however, it didn’t occur to me until examining the mechanization of writing more closely that the aesthetics of new technologies also present new losses and gains.
Did you notice the same? Did you find your eyes drawn more than once to the red on this page, even if just a peripheral reflex?
Bolter, J. D. (2001). Writing space: Computers, hypertext, and the remediation of print (2nd ed.) Taylor and Francis e-Library.
O’Donnell, J. (1999). From Papyrus to Cyberspace. Cambridge Forum. Cambridge, UK; University of Cambridge.
Ong, W. (1982). Orality and literacy: The technologizing of the word. London: Methuen.
Image source: James LeVeque. (2008). Yelling at Dilbert. [Image file]. Retrieved from Flickr under CC by 2.0.