Saturday, February 26, 2005

Against technological determinism 1.0

In studying people's use of writing technologies, I'm often concerned on the influence of the tool on how the activity it mediates unfolds. But technologies are only really influential if they're used in expected ways. A recent Boing Boing post cites a piece that refers to the hacker virtue of "User innovation and the lack of passivity".

I read about the same phenomenon recently in Neal Stephenson's Zodiac:
"Old hardware clerks have learned the hard way that nothing in a hardware store ever gets bought for its nominal purpose. You buy something that was designed to do one thing, and you use it for another." (p. 64)

Here's a resource for all active, innovative users:
[oh and see! what'd I tell ya?]

Thursday, February 24, 2005

New Job!!!

I've just accepted a position in the Department of English at DePaul University in Chicago.

Wednesday, February 23, 2005

Artistic Proof 1.0: A Maxim

"A poor carpenter blames his tools."

Monday, February 21, 2005

Thursday, February 17, 2005

Wired Courtrooms

Lawyers and judges need to coordinate texts too. This month's Wired includes "For Verdict, Click Here," a description of the technologically-enhanced Ninth Judicial Circuit Court of Florida. ( -- I swear that's their real URL)

Built-in handhelds for lawyers (from Posted by Hello

Monday, February 07, 2005

Uncoordinated text! Posted by Hello

[Update: Sorry... broken link.]

Put the information where you'll need it

Another L.O.C. image, a "Powderhorn Map -- Powder horn inscribed with map of Hudson and Mohawk river valleys."

Put the information where you'll need it. Posted by Hello

Text Coord 1.3

Cutting and pasting to co-locate text for coordination -- the way Lincoln used to do it. (From the Library of Congress page on Lincoln's First Inaugural Address.)

The original cut and paste. Posted by Hello

Saturday, February 05, 2005

Textual Coordination 1.2

Here's a rather famous case of annotation -- the drafting of the Declaration of Independence. For a long time, we've found this process useful:
  1. Create draft (text 1)
  2. Annotate (text 2) to guide...
  3. future revision (text 3)
  4. repeat as needed

Rough draft of the Declaration of Independence Posted by Hello

This image comes from the Library of Congress website. Check out the images of the correction flap in the up and down position. Annotation = textual co-location.

(Notice there are far fewer revisions to the draft of the Gettysburg Address. It's so much harder to write by committee!)

Friday, February 04, 2005

Textual Coordination 1.0

One way we coordinate texts, especially ones produced at different times, is to place them physically near each other. This image from a site about producing the Lonseome Dove movie shows two different modes of annotation that are very familiar.

Annotation: 1 kind of coordination Posted by Hello

Staging 1.0

Just read someone's 100 Things list. What got me was, "Twenty-five. I have notebooks full of useless html that I haven't used yet."

See what I mean? We keep text for future use.

Oh, and "Thirty-two. I use post-it notes all the time. My wall beside my computer has about 10-15 post-its up there right now." People are strangely, almost fetishistically, aware of their habits of mediation.

Thursday, February 03, 2005

Rensselaer = Enslaver?

Word's spellcheck just suggested Enslaver for Rensselaer, the name of my current university. Hmmm....

Workspace 1.0

One mediated writing practice I'm keenly interested in is staging -- how and where we place the texts we think we'll need later or are placing around us in order to use at the moment.

Think about it; we've all got idiosyncratic practices of storing texts. There's the "Mad Filer" who saves everything on and off screen in hundreds of carefully labeled files. There's the "Chaos Theorist" who works best with papers scattered all around her and icons littering her screen. We might also characterize the "Mad Piler," "Post-It Note Boy," and "The Librarian" -- a book-based creature who can't possibly have read all those books that make his office seem so small (think your college English teacher).

No one has thought more about the role of the structure of one's workspace that Johndan Johnson-Eilola, now at Clarkson University. (Check out his site:

Here are a few images from his own efforts to structure his information space:
Here's his own post "Computer Screens: More is More" in which contextualizes and points to those images:

(Oh, and here's Thomas Jefferson arguing for an arrangement of his information space.)

An Academic Para-Site

This blog will serve as a site in which I develop my ongoing academic research. I'll post developing or tangential thinking parallel to my dissertation topic. It's an academic para-site, if you will.

I study mediated writing processes -- how people use stuff like software and Post-It notes while writing. I see two main ways in which we do this:
  • Textual Reuse: In the Age of Information, we recycle vast amounts of our own writing. Any time I have to send a letter, I open up the last letter I sent and modify it to become the new letter.
  • Textual Coordination: People spend a lot of time and energy managing existing texts to help them produce new ones. While writing, we put books and papers all around our computers. On screen, we save and carefully place old documents and email, all with the intention of perhaps needing to refer to them to help us do something else later. I believe these management practices are crucial to writing.

You can also visit my academic site: [Update: Now]

I'll be posting my developing thoughts on these topics and examples of these processes that I find "in the wild." Feel free to let me know of any you find.