Friday, February 1, 2013

Online- is it Up or Down

Is a Digital Hug Enough?

Karen Hamilton - Saturday, June 26, 2010, 12:59 PM

In our online course our professor left an audio prompt for us to discuss. The prompt concerned the difference between print media and computers and social networks and asked whether the changes in communication were positive:

To me this prompt was very interesting in that within itself it illustrated one of the advantages of the computer. How different and better are we finding this real voice compared to just the usual written text discussion? I’d say a lot. It brings us closer to the speaker when we hear how the words are spoken and we can feel another level. Is this just word processing? I think not.

The computer allows us to hear the voice of the writer at a time of our choosing, and sometimes through multimedia and it can bring us closer. It can create a wider community that the pencil would have a hard time doing. From the listener’s point of view, we are there, and we often have the opportunity to respond. But what if, we just listen and feel close? Are we really in the community, or only partly there?

The reason I ask that question is that I have a writer friend who died last week from cancer. She was the kind of person who loved nothing more than to have an audience. As a writer, she blogged every detail of her impending death. She wanted her life to have meaning and she wanted to perhaps help others but she also wanted to reach out and pull people closer. Just before she died, she wrote about the strange sensation of having all her friends and acquaintances knowing and having all these details and feeling like they were close. She found it odd that some people still felt so close when in fact they had not contacted her at all. In some ways, her blog enabled people to stay away. So while I love the community of social networks and believe they can bring us closer to more people, there is a distancing factor inherent in them. They bring us together and keep us apart. Kind of perfect for those who have fears of commitment.

I’d have to agree that the changes to communication and writing through the use of the computer are not always upward. But what is up? Is progress up? It’s all subjective. For me what it is, is different. In some ways it pushes us outward and in others the pull is inward.

What it pushes out sometimes can be great- everyone has a voice- there’s more information available. But what happens to our information and ourselves. We give ourselves and we loose our selves. Some of our privacy is lost. Who owns our stuff? Who controls it? Google digitizing books is great. We can sneak a peek into books we don’t buy. It’s a little like a library. But what happens when there is only one library that has all the books?

In an interview with Vincent Rossmeier, Baron is asked why he named his book “A Better Pencil.” He says that his choice of name was “From Pencils to Pixels” but the publisher didn’t think it would sell. They wanted something pointed- a hook. To me “Pencils to Pixels” is more what it is about. The computer is not a better pencil. They are both artefacts but very different.

When I think of the choice of writing an essay with a pencil and no internet or online resources compared with a computer with access to everything, there is no comparison. I don’t have to buy every book or take it out of a library and then plug away piecing things together. I can collect my references on delicious, have access to them on any one of my computers. It’s all there. Maybe what we do though is spend more and more time because we have so much information. The computer that was meant to free us sucks us in and steals more and more time. I went to a live meeting this week and was discussing all the things going on in my life. We had quite the laugh when I said, “That’s a lot going on for someone who has barely been out of the house in a week.”

Many of us have talked about the beauty of a good book. The books today certainly have been word processed but now we can see them in print or digitally. Will we fall in love with our digital copy like we did with our old favourite printed books? And what will happen to book covers if all is digital? A March 30, 2010 New York Times article laments the potential of the book cover if all is digital.

When we write on the computer to others in networking sites like facebook and twitter is what it does to us the same as if we were writing a handwritten letter? Adam Pennenberg writes in “Social Networking Affects Brains Like Falling in Love.” that social networking releases the chemical oxytoxin in our brains and we have a sensation associated with the same kind of warm fuzzy feeling like when we get or give hugs. Can a pencil do that?

But is that good? Are these digital hugs enough? Are we closer or farther away?
Or is it just different? All I know is that a nerd has to be careful- that’s why I’m going out there into the wide world today, turning off this computer for at least awhile.


Baron, D. (2009) A better pencil: Readers, writers and the digital revolution. Oxford University Press

Golden, S. (Sept 18, 2009). ‘A better pencil’, Inside Higher Ed. Retrieved from

Pennenberg, A. (July 1, 2010) Social networking affects brain like falling in love, Fast Company. Retrieved from

Rossmeier, V. (Sept 19, 2009). Is the internet melting our brains?, Facebook, Salon Retrieved from

Rich, M. (Mar 30, 2010). In E-book era, you can’t even judge a cover, New York Times. Retrieved from

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