Track Changes: Thought-Processor

On the bottom of page 161 and top of 162, Kirschenbaum (or rather his word-processor) writes: “Today some believe that the grail of human-computer interaction is to operate machines directly by neural impulse. Writing can unfold at the speed of thought, without regard for fumbling fingers, inflammation of the carpal tunnel, or other bodily functions.” After reading that, I became extremely uneasy and felt like, if that technology were to happen, I would find extreme difficulty writing with it.

First, it deeply unsettled me personally physicalizing the text, whether it be through writing with ink or typing, is a large part of what attaches me to my text, what makes me feel like I have written it. Also, when I’m ‘in the zone’ with my writing, it’s almost like I’m not thinking and my fingers are the ones doing the writing.

If this technology were to become present in my lifetime, I don’t think I would be rushing to use it. I’d dip a toe in, maybe. Of course, this is how many writers felt about the invention of the word processor, as evident in Track Changes. I wonder if, in a few generations, another Track Changes-esque text will be published, tracking the invention of the thought-processor and various authors’ relationships to it.

One thought on “Track Changes: Thought-Processor

  1. I found this passage interesting as well. Can we even call such an activity “writing”? Like you, I enjoy the tactile aspect of the writing process, whether that involves typing something on my laptop or writing it longhand. Incidentally, I’m somewhat of a Luddite in that I tend to handwrite most if not all of my papers and articles by hand first, even the 25-30 pages ones; something about typing it in a document has become incredibly prohibitive for me. As I read Kirschenbaum I was thinking about why this might be, and his (and his subjects’) emphasis on the “perfection” of a typed document emerged as a possible answer. I think perhaps the “perfection” of a typed document–the fact that it looks almost exactly like it does when it’s printed and “finished”–actually inhibits the free flow of my ideas. I become paralyzed. The document is too “clean,” or too “finished.” I prefer handwriting partially because I don’t write in a linear fashion (as the sticky notes all over my walls and the half-written paragraphs pinned to my project boards right now will attest)… there is something so finalized, so progressive or linear, about typing in a Word document, for example.

    I found this interesting because Kirschenbaum pointed out that early users of word processors liked the fact that they could easily move things around and shift entire paragraphs, etc. But I have found that I can’t conceptualize my document as a whole, written piece in a digital form. It’s much easier for me to print out my paper and literally cut it into pieces and move it around that way. Organization tends to escape me when I begin the writing process digitally (as perhaps my comment illustrates). How will we “edit” in “thought-processor” mode?

    I suppose I say all this in order to complicate further the idea that technological progress is a linear phenomenon (as Kirschenbaum does towards the end of the text). But I still find his suggestion of, as you put it, a “thought-processor” fascinating for a variety of reasons. It would certainly benefit a lot of people: I keep thinking specifically of Stephen Hawking and the multiple books he wrote and published even though he couldn’t technically “write.” What does it mean to write in the digital age? What do we mean when we say that we’re writing? It’s honestly something I never really questioned before this class, but now a thousand questions are constantly flooding my brain every time I take up a book… digital or otherwise.

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