Defining digital writing and its implications

What is digital writing and how is it different from “writing” as it is commonly defined? Why is it important that people learn about it, engage with it, and compose digital texts? How and why has digital writing changed the way we think about writing, writers, writing processes, the functions of writing, research, and the relationship between writers and readers? What do you need to consider when you write and read in digital spaces?

Digital writing has undoubtedly become an integrated part of young people’s lives. This statement is not intended to dismiss the usage of texting, blogging and Facebook by older generations. However, these technologies are oftentimes too foreign and complex for a group of people who did not grow up in an environment stimulated by such technologies. This dependence upon digital writing has fostered an environment of questions and concerns: What is digital writing, and how is it different than ‘traditional’ writing? How will digital writing change the way that we think about writing?

To begin, digital writing can be understood as a form of writing that is created by means of a computer or similar internet device.  It can be readily available to be read and consumed by users with a simple click of a button. Click, scroll, highlight, copy and paste—these digital writing tools are all a part of what separates ‘traditional’ writing from digital writing. As digital writing has become increasingly influential in society, there has been a push for identifying and differentiating ‘traditional’ from digital writing. In my perspective, this effort derives from a fear that ‘traditional’ writing will eventually be lost and absorbed by the ever-expanding usage of the internet, praised for its immediacy and availability of information.

Born in 1990, I have witnessed the gradual development and dependence of society upon technology, and, more specifically, digital writing. This dependency was sparked in 1993 with the introduction of the web browser to the public. Over time, I have formed my own opinions about the differences between ‘traditional’ and digital writing.

In my mind, traditional writing is a slow process that involves brainstorming, drafts and peer revision. Generally speaking, I consider ‘traditional’ writing to be more academic based and digital writing to be more nonchalant, social phenomenon. This is not to say that there is not great overlap between the two. For example, I frequently use online academic journals, and the content from these journals enriches my paper with information that otherwise might have been difficult to locate (I will point out that these articles are peer-reviewed). With this in mind,  ‘traditional’ writing is not as instantaneous as digital writing, which can be typed, posted and immediately available to all internet users in a matter of seconds. Traditional writing is a thought process which takes careful consideration. Digital writing can also contain these qualities, although such information can be harder to locate and identify.

It is important to analyze the complications of digital writing. The internet is a tool that allows for information to be accessed by typing a short key phrase into a search engine like Google. BAM–10,000 hits available at your fingertips on your topic of choice. The problem then becomes what is a reliable source vs. an unreliable source.  John August refers to this problem when he discusses ‘authority.’ The writing process itself has been challenged. Anyone can post anything, so the relationship between the reader and writer must be questioned. Furthermore, readers can now respond to writers more directly through unfiltered postings. On another note, while ‘traditional’ writing often goes through editing processes before publication, digital writing does not maintain the same qualifications. This discrepancy challenges online research and highlights the importance of making sure that a web page is reliable. Any student of this age can tell you that teachers loathe Wikipedia, because anyone can post to its page. In this way, digital writing must be approached with more caution than ‘traditional’ writing.

Digital writing is unique in that it lingers on the internet forever. Even if the information is wrong, it will still remain available to search engines and consumed by internet users. This is why it is important to monitor what you write and how you write it. Information should be accurate and, if inaccurate, taken down. I will keep these suggestions in mind as I use the internet from now on. My personal dependence upon the internet has grown substantially over time. When I traveled to Australia, I created a blog to update family and friends of my adventures. My Facebook allows for me to contact hundreds of people with the click of a button. I send around at least fifteen emails a day, relying on my email account to transfer critical information regarding my academic classes. The vast majority of people my age that I know all depend upon the internet in a similar way. It is unarguable that digital writing is a predominant part of our society. The question now is how to efficiently and accurately consume its information, reaping its benefits most effectively.

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