Democratizing Text: Multiplicities, Bicycles for the Mind, and Neurological Pluralism

David Sparks commented on my piece on contextual computing with these thoughtful words on democratizing text.

There is a movement afoot to democratize text and hyperlinking on the web, in apps, and across our computers. For the longest time we’ve been spinning our wheels using computer data (particularly words) as digital approximations of the printed words that came before them. That needs to change. Using hyperlinking and contextual computing, we take the written word (and the underlying paradigm about how we work on a computer) from one dimension and convert it to three dimensions.

I’ve been thinking a lot about this myself and I truly believe dynamic, bi-directional linking across files and apps can dramatically improve the way we use our computers and develop our days. It is the way for computers to truly serve the role as “bicycles for the mind“.

Source: The Growing Movement for Hyperlinking and Contextual Computing – MacSparky

I really like the invocation of “bicycles for the mind”. I want a future of text that enables accessibility, positive niche construction, and differentiated instruction in service to neurological pluralism. “Bicycles for the mind” is useful framing to get us there.

ANI launched its online list, ANI-L, in 1994. Like a specialized ecological niche, ANI-L had acted as an incubator for Autistic culture, accelerating its evolution. In 1996, a computer programmer in the Netherlands named Martijn Dekker set up a list called Independent Living on the Autism Spectrum, or InLv. People with dyslexia, ADHD, dyscalculia, and a myriad of other conditions (christened “cousins” in the early days of ANI) were also welcome to join the list. InLv was another nutrient-rich tide pool that accelerated the evolution of autistic culture. The collective ethos of InLv, said writer and list member Harvey Blume in the New York Times in 1997, was “neurological pluralism.” He was the first mainstream journalist to pick up on the significance of online communities for people with neurological differences. “The impact of the Internet on autistics,” Blume predicted, “may one day be compared in magnitude to the spread of sign language among the deaf.”

Source: The neurodiversity movement: Autism is a minority group. NeuroTribes excerpt.

“Writing is the path to power for those born without power.” We’ve seen that in neurodiversity, disability, and other self-advocacy communities. That’s a big reason why “Multiplicities are an intention: We build the best collaboration, the deepest learning, when we expand the opportunities for complex vision.”

Writing is too important because, though forms and structures will differ, writing is the path to power for those born without power. This importance lies not in how to write a “five‐paragraph essay” or a “compare and contrast” book review but in the capability to clearly communicate visions both personal and collaborative. Whether the work is a tweet that generates action when that is needed, or a text message to an employer, or the ability to convince others in the political realm, or the expression of one’s identity in a form that evokes empathy in those without similar experience, “communicating” “well” is a social leveler of supreme importance.

In both cases, methodology become less important than process. Our students read on paper, or through audio books, or through text‐to‐speech, or by watching video, or by seeing theater – or by observing their world. They write with pens, keyboards large and small, touchscreens, or by dictating to their phones or computers, or by recording audio, or by making videos, or by writing plays or creating art, or playing music. We do not limit the work by attacking those with disabilities or even inabilities – or even other preferences, because that robs children of both important influences and of their individual voices. Multiplicities are an intention: We build the best collaboration, the deepest learning, when we expand the opportunities for complex vision.

Thus we begin by moving the teaching of writing from the training of a specific skill set toward an interpersonal art form that flows from students and builds communities. Then, through the reimagining of teaching places into “learning spaces,” we craft “studios” where all the technologies of school – time, space, tools, pedagogies – liberate and inspire rather than deliver and test. Then, using those recrafted technologies, we allow communication learning to flow.

Source: Socol, Ira. Timeless Learning: How Imagination, Observation, and Zero-Based Thinking Change Schools (Kindle Locations 3725-3739). Wiley. Kindle Edition.

Written communication is the great social equalizer.” Our future of text must respect pluralism and multiplicities. “Digital approximations of the printed words that came before them” often compromise that future. So much of what I see from school is inaccessible in some way. Page-based word processors dominate education while many who write for a living or a hobby are using portable, accessible, and increasingly ubiquitous Markdown, a now 16-year-old technology.

At the 2013 Computers & Writing conference, we (Derek & Tim) started talking about the broad Markdown affinity space: Podcasts, blogs, self-published books, and social media conversations. We were particularly interested in the absence of these conversations within our field. How could a nearly ten-years-old writing technology continue to grow in professional and enthusiast spaces but also be largely absent among those who teach and research writing?

Source: Writing Workflows | Introduction

“Methodology become less important than process.” The answer is not to prescribe Markdown but to support multiplicities, process, and flow. That’s part of the magic of Markdown and plain text and hyperlinks.

I spend a lot of time in text editors. Almost everything I write starts in my favorite text editor. A text editor is my thinking space. It is a place for moving around blocks and tinkering with parts. It is a place to explore my mind and write it the way I want it to read. Iteration and ideation happen in my editor. My notes are not just a record of my thinking process, they are my thinking process. Text editors are extensions of mind that facilitate thinking.

All of this happens in beautiful, wonderful plain text.

Source: Writing in Education and Plain Text Flow

What Sparks and many other proponents of distraction-free applications or Markdown syntax are pointing toward is the importance of workflows that “regulate thought and affect and channel attention and action” (Prior & Shipka 2003, 228). They are pointing to workflows that produce (and are produced by) mental states that support writers in whatever activity they seek to accomplish. For these writers, designing a workflow means crafting a digital environment responsive to physical conditions that supports and helps bring about concentration, focus, creativity, and many other states. Any tour through writing advice from the past one hundred years or so will cover some of the same ground: writers who have morning rituals, who use particular (physical) tools, who depend on specific brands of notebooks for incubation and invention. What we want to point to with these case studies is, first, the benefit of attending more carefully to the role of digital tools and environments and, second, the inseparability of these workflows for writing activity. Workflows aren’t activities that simply precede writing, make writing easier, or make it more enjoyable. Workflows may involve those aspects, but we are suggesting something broader and more foundational: workflows, as we define them here, are what writing activity is made of.

Source: Writing Workflows | Chapter 3

Contextual Computing, Workflow Thinking, and the Future of Text

I consider text to be an indispensable part of our societies, no matter where situated on our planet. The potential permanence of the written record is vital to our recall of the past and to our ability to communicate with the future.

— Vinton G. Cerf

Source: Foreword, The Future of Text

We need to become better at being humans. Learning to use symbols and knowledge in new ways, across groups, across cultures, is a powerful, valuable, and very human goal. And it is also one that is obtainable, if we only begin to open our minds to full, complete use of computers to augment our most human of capabilities.

— Douglas C. Engelbart

Source: Improving our Ability to Improve – 2002 – (AUGMENT,133320,) – Doug Engelbart Institute

I love hyperlinks and the contextual computing and workflow thinking they enable. These two important trends “brought back the hyperlink” in service to a future of text that uses computers “to augment our most human of capabilities” and “communicate with the future”.

It’s time we brought back the hyperlink and learned how to really use it. It’s time we used information abundance to our advantage. And it’s time we disentangled our communications from platforms tuned for the spread of disinformation. The health of our democracies just might depend on it.

Source: Education in the (Dis)Information Age – Hybrid Pedagogy

When building WordPress, we made sure everything had its own permanent link. Every object, every query is intrinsically addressable via hyperlink.

Every Object Intrinsically Addressable (Linkable to):

Every knowledge object—from the largest documents, to aggregate branches, down to content units such as characters—has an unambiguous address, understandable and readable by a user, and referenceable anywhere in the hyperdocument system. Such intrinsic addressability should be integrated deeply into commands for editing, structuring, jumping. Intrinsic addressing options not only are natural to learn and embed in links, but serve as parameters for direct, user-invoked jumping and manipulation commands. This addressing scheme allows direct or indirect addressing (absolute or relative, and through aliases; indeed we allow unlimited indirect address chaining) and working with objects not currently displayed. For instance, one can copy a structure without finding and opening the file containing it. Meta-level referencing (addresses on links themselves) enables knowledge workers to comment upon links and otherwise reference them.

Source: Toward Augmenting the Human Intellect and Boosting our Collective IQ

When building Automattic, we instilled a culture of cross-linking that leveraged the addressability of WordPress. Automattic writes constantly (default to open) and links everything.

Hypertext and hyperlinks are “the language of the internet — the language of (digital) scholarship”. Cultures built on this language “connect knowledge resources together”, improve “efficiency and effectiveness at using knowledge”, and create serendipity.

To flow forward into this future of text where hyperlinks enable workflow thinking, contextual computing, and cultures of knowledge connection, we need intrinsic addressability in all of our tools. We need ubiquitous bidirectional linking of the sort Hook provides.

We believe users have a right to easily and automatically get links to their data.

We feel that the Copy Link command is just as important as Copy and Paste. Copy and Paste commands are almost always located in an Edit menu, which makes them very easy to find. And they have a standard keyboard shortcut: ⌘C and ⌘V.

By making link access commands easy for users and software (via API) to apply, the full potential of interlinking can be realized.

We have described many of these cognitive productivity benefits on Hook’s benefits web page. The power of human brains comes from their massive interconnectedness and intra-connectedness. Being able to connect knowledge resources together can improve one’s cognitive productivity – or efficiency and effectiveness at using knowledge.

Source: What’s a Linkable App and Why Does Linkability Matter? – Hook

Enabling users to rapidly address and navigate information across apps and services enables them to be cognitively productive: remembering, understanding, analyzing, applying, synthesizing and creating solutions, knowledge and other products.

We therefore strongly encourage all developers to ensure their software provide APIs and easily accessible user interfaces for getting and serving links to their data.

Source: A Manifesto for User and Automation Interfaces for Hyperlinking

Written communication is the great social equalizer. Text is the accessible, all-purpose interface used to augment all other media.

Text and reading have never been as pervasive and central as today. We live in a stream of digital revolutions pushing reading at the centre of our lives and activities. The result is the emergence of a new role for text as the all-purpose interface. This trend leads to a future made of text, where everything is mediated by text and in which everybody is directly and indirectly involved in the production and consumption of more text. The production of text is already collectively amplified, for instance, considering as texts receipts, reports, manuals, frequently asked questions, to-do lists, memos, contracts, chats, tags, notes, descriptions, emails, invitations, calendar appointments and so on. Therefore, the Future Of Text lies in the re-definition of text “craftsmanship”, focused on enabling and facilitating a text-mediated access and interaction with the relationships, functions and actors of the reality we live in.

On the other hand, the use of text to augment all other media (i.e. text description, alternate text, tags) is widely used and, in some cases, it is essential or a legal requirement. Indeed, the use of text is necessary for archiving, retrieving media, and for accessibility by both humans and machines.

Source: The Future Is Text: The Universal Interface, The Future of Text

Workflow thinking, contextual computing, and hyperlinks are at their best when enabling differentiated instruction and making text more inclusive to all bodyminds.

I’m learning a lot about myself since my ADHD and autism diagnoses. One of the things I’m learning is that a lot of my ways of working are actually disability hacks: as it turns out a LOT of my people are very visual and a LOT of my people have poor working memory. Instead of trying to change myself to fit the ways of working I think I should have, because other people, I should maybe instead celebrate that I have, by trial and error and very little help or encouragement from anyone, kluged my way into some best practices for my particular career and set of challenges. I should congratulate myself on the self-knowledge that got me to a place that I’ve devised a whole workflow that minimizes the disabling effects of my particular forms of neurodivergence and allows me to shine. (para. 5)

Morrison’s post suggests that workflows can be an inclusive and productive concept-that we have much to gain by considering how we work, what tools we work with, and how those preferences can help us think beyond a set of default, invisible, or unstated norms.

Source: Writing Workflows | Introduction

My hope for the Future Of Text is that, as in the past, it will adapt to us as we adapt to it. That it will bring the body—of writer and reader—back into view in all its difference and complexity.

Source: Embodying Text, The Future of Text

Read on for selections on contextual computing, workflow thinking, “how to really use” the addressability of hyperlinks, and how to build a future of text that “will adapt to us as we adapt to it”:

I think a lot of people are underutilizing links. Lately, I have been working with contextual computing and the idea that you can go from idea to action on your computer with the least amount of friction. For example, if you need to access your task list for a specific project and open your task manager, you will be immediately exposed to much more than that particular project’s task list. You will see your daily list, your flags, and a host of other unrelated data that can distract and divert you from the reason you went to your task manager to begin with. This is even worse with infinite bucket apps like email and your web browser.

It is far better to jump straight from thought (I want to see the shrink ray project) to execution (looking at the shrink ray project) without the intervening steps of navigating through an app. This eliminates the possibility of distraction. So the trick is to find ways not to open apps, but specific data sets within apps to avoid further distraction.

This is easiest to implement with websites. Every page on the internet has a URL address that takes you to that specific place without any intermediate stops when fed to your browser of choice. If your work involves going to websites, you can save those URLs to your devices and trigger them from just about anywhere. I keep URLs to tasks, calendar entries, notes entries, and other places where I often find myself working and want to go quickly to a particular spot on the internet. When you click that embedded link, you go straight to your destination. No distractions.

Source: Linking and Contextual Computing — MacSparky

The idea, in a nutshell, of contextual computing is removing all barriers between thought and action.

Source: Mac Power Users #569: Contextual Computing – Relay FM

Hyperlinks bring billions of sources within the distance of two finger taps.

But they also collectively do something huge: They create a traversable, semantically-connected world of ever- increasing value.

Hyperlinks let the World Wide Web be a web in the first place. They have broken down the boundaries around topics. They have restructured how we write. And most of all, they have built a global place composed of the contributions of billions of people who insert links as enticements to readers to leave this site and hop to another … billions of small acts of authorial generosity.

Source: Punctuation As Meaning, The Future of Text

Text, related content, the ideas represented, and the connections between ideas create context, which is foundational for sensemaking. Contextual information such as the relationship between one idea and another turns information into knowledge. We understand things in how they are connected into what we already know, and how they are the same or different.

One could say, we understand something in how it is connected to our active internal “knowledge map” – that is, what we perceive and what we understand or recall about the focus of our attention and how it connects to our world. This is our basis for sensemaking. In the future, sensemaking will be augmented.

— Daveed Benjamin

Source: Ubiquitous Context, The Future of Text

Ultimately, we argue that a workflow-focused approach to writing offers a pathway to agency, creativity, and confidence with computing-a spirit that is very much in line with the lineage of digital and multimodal work in Composition Studies.

Source: Writing Workflows | Introduction

From our participants’ practices we draw the concept of workflow thinking-the act of reading knowledge work as modular and intertwined with technologies. Workflow thinking allows our participants to break any given project into a series of shorter process steps-a perspective that is well in line with Writing Studies’ understanding of process and its typical pedagogical practices. Workflow thinking, however, foregrounds the mediated nature of that work. It looks at each task or component and asks a series of questions about the writing technologies and available affordances within that component: “Through which technologies will I accomplish this task? Why? What does a change in technologies offer here?” For our participants, a shift in these practices might afford them mobility, the removal of drudgery, new ways of seeing a problem, or new invention strategies. In each case, however, they can use this mediated and modular thinking to reevaluate when and how they approach knowledge work.

In this way, we want to emphasize that workflow thinking can be a personal reevaluation of the capital-minded, deskilling focus of workflows in industry or business contexts. As with most knowledge workers, our participant group operates within the discourses of personal productivity and efficiency, where industrial and corporate workflow values filter down and are appropriated by individuals. And yet their approach to workflows is not simply a personal version of a business practice. They use workflow thinking as a way to constantly reevaluate and iterate their writing processes on the criteria of productivity, yes, but across affective dimensions as well. They also use workflow thinking to find social connections and conversation in the sometimes isolating world of contemporary digital knowledge work. Although their workflows are intensely personal and cultivated for their specific projects and interests, they often break out and share the artifacts of their workflows-through scripts or apps-and narratives of writing workflows. This sharing may involve a simple blog post or comment on a podcast, or it may be in the form of a book or video series for sale. The workflow, for them, is part practice, part conversation, and part commodity.

This book offers workflow thinking as a counterpoint to contemporary discussions of digital writing technologies, particularly with regard to the increasing prominence of institutional software. As more universities sign on to site licenses for platforms like Office 365 and Google Apps for Education, and as more students and faculty become comfortable with working within those applications, writers risk a “cementing” of practice-a means through which writing tasks begin and end in institutionally sanctioned software because it is free, preinstalled, institutionally available, or seen as a shared software vocabulary. A lens of workflow thinking pushes against this, instead asking “What are the component pieces of this work?,” “How is this mediated?,” and “What might a shift in mediation or technology afford me in completing this?” In short, we see workflow thinking as a way to reclaim agency and push against institutionally purchased software defaults. This perspective has origins in early humanities computing (particularly in 1980s research on word processors), as we will more fully discuss later in this chapter.

We also offer workflow mapping as a complement to workflow thinking. Where workflow thinking imagines new composing possibilities, workflow mapping instead looks backward, asking how practices and preferences accrete over time. In the chapters that follow, we use workflows and workflow thinking as ways of reading and learning from our participants, but we close the book with workflow mapping because it is a personal practice-a journey through memory and metacognition. Although we developed the mapping concept during our analysis of the case studies that follow, we haven’t retrospectively applied it to them. We don’t see mapping as a simple post hoc heuristic; rather, it is a personal exploration that helps a writer see the potentials of workflow thinking through a deeper understanding of how their current practices and preferences have been shaped. We also see mapping as a generative space for future research. We discuss this in greater depth in chapter 6.

Source: Writing Workflows | Chapter 1

These writers are constantly reexamining their processes, looking at the potential of mediating technologies, and searching for friction-places where they think there’s a better way to accomplish a task, where they find unnecessary steps in a process, or where they describe software as getting in their way. Workflows allow them to search for and eliminate friction, better matching writing tools to the writer’s affective preferences and creating new ways of seeing and doing knowledge work.

The concept of friction offers one possible explanation for Word’s ascent and the general disappearance of word processing research. Friction is most noticeable when first adopting a new piece of software, as each task seems to take longer than it should. Once software is familiar and process is routinized, friction fades to the background. And once it seems normal, a specific use case isn’t frictional-it’s simply the way the software works. Over time, that friction melds into a user’s everyday interaction with the computer. (This is one way in which our participants deviate from typical computing patterns; they seek out and read for moments of friction.)

Word’s familiarity and ubiquity means that many writers can use it without problem; any perceived friction recedes to the background as a part of a typical use case. This familiarity serves a purpose, “as people prefer their technologies transparent: they do not like to think about the features of their word processors any more than they like to think about shifting gears in an automobile, and they prefer to look through a given technology to the task at hand” (Haas, 1996, p. 25). The narrowing of the word processor market facilitated this perspective-moving (to follow Haas’s analogy) writing software from a manual to automatic transmission. Today, many writers open Word, step on the gas, and go. Moving out of this mindset, as Haas argues, “entail[s] looking at, rather than through, the literacy technologies we use every day. This will be difficult, and indeed not always practical. In the conduct of most work it is important to be able to treat technology transparently; after all, we have classes to teach, books to write, and children to raise” (p. 23). Said simply: To study friction is to reintroduce friction into writing. Word became transparent and useful, and the word processor lost its luster as an object of inquiry.

For participants in the workflow affinity space, searching for friction means identifying and eliminating moments when software gets in the way. They might recommend that writers step back from familiar software and consider how friction has become normalized in day-to-day use cases.

Word will appear to be a frictionless technology until Word is no longer a readily available tool. Then, when Word files aren’t easy to open, friction will reappear. By stepping away from the familiar and searching for potential friction points, however, a writer can better understand how particular tools or formats shape and structure their work.

There is also a way to see friction as generative by purposefully introducing it to one’s process through difficult or troublesome technologies. This approach to friction departs from the efficiency-minded priorities of the writers we profile in this book, but it aligns well with the creative and inventive priorities of many writing pedagogies. This might look something like Anne Wysocki’s (2004) writing assignment that suggests instructors “give students a short (1-2 page) writing assignment-and then ask them to turn in the assignment written in crayon (any color or colors) on any paper” (p. 27). Crayons, in an academic context, are pure friction; they are difficult to work with, they smear, they can look messy or unprofessional, and they subvert expectations. However, the friction imposed by crayons might help a writer better understand mediation and see their work in a new way. This friction can be inventive and productive, and it aligns with Marcus’s invisible writing exercise: Swapping monitors won’t help a writer produce a polished draft, but it might help them generate ideas or see their work in new ways. It is purposeful friction.

Source: Writing Workflows | Chapter 1

We argue in this chapter that one key benefit of attending to writing workflows is that writers can explore different states of mind supported by the mediating influence of tools and practices yet resist the seduction of learning tools for their own sake (e.g., to use Maid’s example, learning RoboHelp’s features on their own terms rather than learning to use RoboHelp in the service of clear writing objectives). A workflow is crafted around an end the writer has developed that is separate from the user interface (UI) or user experience (UX) of any individual app.By always aiming toward their writing objectives, rather than toward the objective of simply learning X or Y application, writers who attend to their workflows can navigate between the rock and a hard place of learning tools on the tool’s own terms and remaining attached to a single application (e.g., Microsoft Word) while ignoring the affordances of other tools.

Workflow thinking, therefore—meaning deliberate attention to the ways tasks and tools can be fit together and reshape each other—is about understanding what states of consciousness are needed or desired and what workflows will reliably produce them. Neglecting this reflective work results in achieving desired states through chance or while being resisted by one’s tools.

What Sparks and many other proponents of distraction-free applications or Markdown syntax are pointing toward is the importance of workflows that “regulate thought and affect and channel attention and action” (Prior & Shipka 2003, 228). They are pointing to workflows that produce (and are produced by) mental states that support writers in whatever activity they seek to accomplish. For these writers, designing a workflow means crafting a digital environment responsive to physical conditions that supports and helps bring about concentration, focus, creativity, and many other states. Any tour through writing advice from the past one hundred years or so will cover some of the same ground: writers who have morning rituals, who use particular (physical) tools, who depend on specific brands of notebooks for incubation and invention. What we want to point to with these case studies is, first, the benefit of attending more carefully to the role of digital tools and environments and, second, the inseparability of these workflows for writing activity. Workflows aren’t activities that simply precede writing, make writing easier, or make it more enjoyable. Workflows may involve those aspects, but we are suggesting something broader and more foundational: workflows, as we define them here, are what writing activity is made of.

Source: Writing Workflows | Chapter 3

The oldest and simplest of internet technologies, the hyperlink and the “new” kind of text it affords – hypertext – is the foundational language of the internet, HyperText Markup Language (HTML). Hypertext connects all the disparate pieces of the web together. And it’s Sci-Fi name isn’t an accident. It’s hyperdrive for the internet, bending information space so that any user can travel galaxy-scale information distances with a small movement of a finger. The hyperlink still remains one of the most powerful elements of the web. In fact, I’d argue that the hyperlink is our most potent weapon in the fight against disinformation.

With experience in evaluating and distinguishing various kinds of sources, the critically minded student can parse these links and filter bias to pull nuanced meaning from these various texts. More importantly in our current information landscape, the student/professor/researcher-as-public-scholar/educated-graduate-as-mindful-citizen can curate the best primary and secondary sources as links, and use the opportunity not simply to prove their credentials and bolster their argument, but to educate the public, bringing more light than heat to whatever issue they are unpacking.

First, academic work – both for students and faculty – still tends to be centered around traditional, pre-web conventions of writing. The printed book/article/essay, with footnotes and a bibliography, does not speak the language of the web, and footnotes/endnotes on a website do not encourage an audience to engage with more material more deeply. Putting an academic paper on the web is nothing like writing for the web. Until more faculty help their students learn to do the latter (and until faculty promotion and retention policies encourage faculty themselves to be fluent in writing for a public audience on the web), we’ll continue to raise up future generations of graduates (including the next generation of professors) who aren’t ready for their role in the fight against disinformation.

Second, social-media platforms have worked hard to kill the hyperlink.

As propagandists and perpetrators of (dis)information operations find those social-media limitations amenable to their aims, we need to resist. And we resist not only with better information, and better interpretation, but in recovering the language of the internet – the language of (digital) scholarship.

It’s time we brought back the hyperlink and learned how to really use it. It’s time we used information abundance to our advantage. And it’s time we disentangled our communications from platforms tuned for the spread of disinformation. The health of our democracies just might depend on it.

Source: Education in the (Dis)Information Age – Hybrid Pedagogy

“Most of the structuring forms I’ll show you stem from the simple capability of being able to establish arbitrary linkages between different substructures, and of directing the computer subsequently to display a set of linked substructures with any relative positioning we might designate among the different substructures. You can designate as many different kinds of links as you wish, so that you can specify different display or manipulative treatment for the different types.”

Source: AUGMENTING HUMAN INTELLECT: A CONCEPTUAL FRAMEWORK

When we talk about automation, we aren’t arguing for a renewed focus on machine grading (Ericsson & Haswell 2006), the use of plagiarism detection services (Purdy 2005), or improving spambots. Instead, we hope to point the field back toward the spirit and sense of invention prevalent in 1980s approaches to computing. Furthermore, we recognize that many efforts to automate tasks in recent decades have sought to deskill humans or remove them from the task altogether. We hope to counter these examples with depictions of automation that increases the active potential of the people who employ it. We are encouraging a return to the possibilities of machines, to consider how software and scripts might help us not just eliminate drudgery but how they might also encourage us to reconsider our composing processes. Automation in this sense isn’t simply eliminating or streamlining tasks; it is working alongside the computer and software to reconsider how and where we invent and compose.

Writers participating in the Markdown affinity space frequently write and talk about automation in terms of their workflows. These writers seek to use automation to remove friction in order to accomplish tasks more efficiently, accurately, or with more focus. Friction, for these writers, is invoked when they say there’s a better way to accomplish a task, when they note there are unnecessary steps in a process, or when they describe software as getting in their way.

In wanting to “just write,” Terpstra—like many other participants in our study and members of this affinity space—seeks an experience of flow (Csíkszentmihályi 1990) that minimizes the possible mediation or interruption of writing technologies and foregrounds his interaction with the text.

Source: Writing Workflows | Chapter 4

We hope that this book has made the case against workflows as deskilling or industrial-focused and has instead repositioned them as a personal practice grounded in mindfulness and craft. That kind of mindful inquiry happens throughout the workflow affinity space, as evidenced in blogs, podcasts, and discussion boards, and we have much to learn from it. But we also acknowledge that Sparks, Terpstra, and Viticci have a certain set of goals and interests. They often chase states of flow or efficiency or frictionless work-values that echo computer science and computer-adjacent industries. In expanding the audience for workflows, we hope that other writers can push against these perspectives and show how workflows can be adopted and used in different ways with different priorities.

The enthusiasm for writing technology in the workflow affinity space echoes the creativity and experimentation found in early computers and writing conference publications. By bringing workflows into conversation with process and writing theory, we hope that the genres and practices we suggest can bring more people into the conversation, moving writing tools and technologies into a conversational space that is creative, critical, and experimental-and most important, welcoming to all.

Source: Writing Workflows | Chapter 6

The Future Of Text is in our hands. I mean that both figuratively, as a call to action, and literally, as a reminder that text comes to us through the body, often at arm’s reach. Sometimes auditory, sometimes tactile, text always requires the engagement of our sensorium, some transfer between body and surface—whether we are gazing at a monument, palming a paperback, running a finger along a braille page or touch screen, or listening to a live or recorded performance. As artist Mel Bochner reminds us, “language is not transparent,” it is a material—one we develop to meet the needs of each society in which it arises—and the portable storage and retrieval devices through which we distribute it take shape from both the materials ready to hand and the desires of writers, readers, scribes, publishers, and myriad other players who have their hands in it. Whether we are looking at clay tablets, khipu, or bamboo scrolls, the medium through which text is transported in turn shapes the way we read, and even shapes language itself. Text, which we currently cannot access without the intervention of some medium or other, is shaped to our hands, our arms, our ability to stand or sit, hold or look. Text requires interfaces to meet the faces that meet it.

Text’s future must be tied to the human body. It has and will continue to adapt to the body’s needs, and those who design the interfaces through which we make contact with it must keep this in mind as they build architectures of interactivity including and alongside the printed page. History has shown that as the book changes form, multiple media co-exist for centuries—just as the scroll and codex met the needs of different audiences for more than seven hundred years, the codex and touchscreen are not yet ready to cede their roles as transporters of language. The fact that text’s material forms don’t simply give way to one another in a series of tectonic shifts should come as no surprise since, technically, the same etymological root from which text arises also gives us technology—the terms are associated by craft, as techne like weaving and other arts provided an object of study for those ancient Greeks wishing to give them the systematic treatment of logia, tatting their knowledge into treatises for others to unbind.

My hope for the Future Of Text is that, as in the past, it will adapt to us as we adapt to it. That it will bring the body—of writer and reader—back into view in all its difference and complexity.

Source: Embodying Text, The Future of Text