‘Cause We Are Living In a Digital World

2008 was a big year. I had just transferred schools and was anxious to begin learning in what would be my school system until I graduated high-school in 2013. The school system had just decided to distribute MacBooks to the middle school, and my class was to be the first to receive them. I was 12 years old and had never used a laptop before (I would get my first laptop two years later).

Following using that MacBook in 2008, I began to develop an online presence. I signed up for MySpace, Facebook, and some years later, Tumblr. Through using all of these online platforms, it has become apparent to me that every website uses different language in their digital writing and multi-model aspects to cater to their specific audiences. Along with this, it has shaped how people go about their day-to-day lives – personally and professionally.

Why is digitally writing important?

To start off, I should define exactly what digital writing is. Digital writing is “writing produced on handheld and desktop digital devices and distributed primarily via wireless and wired networks” (DigiRhet). Basically what this means is that digital writing is any writing that can be shared through the internet and is written on some sort of digital device.

Digital writing is useful for many reasons. One of these reasons is that it allows people to become a part of a larger community than the ones that they might already be in. As Sean Michael Morris says in his article “Digital Writing Uprising: Third-order Thinking in the Digital Humanities”, “As our writing practices become more and more digital, we discover that immense collaboration is possible, and we create meaningful networks using social media tools that help us control that collaboration, monitor it, make it purposeful.” This is important because when we publish anything online, it goes through many more forms than something would we would write analogically. This is because when we write something down on paper, or even type it out and then print it, we have control over who gets to view that piece of work. It requires a physical interaction between two or more people. But, when something is written digitally, it is subject to viewing by more than just those you share it with. It is available for the entire internet community – that’s millions of people. More thought is put into these digital writing pieces because, as Mr. Morris said, we are creating works that allow for unintentional collaboration.

This form of writing is also helpful because it teaches people to get straight to their point, rather than beating around the bush. Leigh Wright, a journalism professor at Murray State University in Kentucky, uses Twitter to teach her students to be more concise with their writing. She says that she “strives to find ways to connect the current practice of digital and social media journalism to my classes” (Wright). This directly connects a Buzzfeed article that I will talk about in few paragraphs. That article is a perfect example of using social media to connect to an audience and to get a message across. The attention span of those who frequent the internet is getting shorter as well, so it certainly doesn’t hurt to teach people how to be more precise when writing for the internet.


Writing On the web vs Writing For the Web

One point that I really want to drive home in this essay, and the idea comes from an article called Consider the Audience, is that there is a huge difference between writing on the web and for the web. When writing for the web, it is important to know your audience.

Take the difference between these New York Times and a Buzzfeed articles. Both of these articles are about the same thing – a shooting that occurred on October 22, 2014 and the Canadian Parliament building in Ottawa, Ontario. However, these two articles are written in two totally different manners. They are writing to cater to their generalized audiences. Neither article is particularly dense, but it’s clear that the Times article is a little more so than the other. In these cases it is important to write for the web because when regarding heavy material such as this because both of these articles were trying to keep their readers in engaged.

The New York Times is one of the largest and most prestigious newspapers published in the United States. It has won the Pulitzer Prize over 100 times and it is generally geared toward educated, white-collar, upper and middle class citizens. Times uses one image and a video to help the reader understand what happened. The video is about two minutes long, features eye witness accounts, and includes a narrator. The image used is a didactic image that shows the locations of each shooting (it was initially reported that there were three shootings, but one of these claims was later refuted, and the pictures shows that) and then the captions give a short overview of what occurred at each location. It is presented with all of the text being the same size and style (meaning no bold, italics, etc.).The article is written as a story. It has continuous flow and it not choppy.

Buzzfeed, on the other hand, is geared more towards people who are interested in pop-culture and heavy visual aids to help them understand the content. Buzzfeed’s take on the event is littered with pictures and twitter links. Some of the text is large and bold and other parts of the text are regularly formatted. There is no clear distinction between the importance of the bold and the unbolded text – it all seems rather important considering the heavy nature of the subject. The pictures that the website uses in the article are not didactic like in the Times, but rather show pictures of ambulances, policemen, and a picture of one of the rooms in the Canadian Parliament being on lockdown. They do, however, unlike the former article, show an Instagram photo from one of the men that was shot and killed. I feel like this makes the reader care a little bit more about the content because they are seeing a glimpse of the life of a man whose life was taken far too soon. This article seems much more personable than the New York Times article.

The tweets that are used on Buzzfeed are from people who were in the building during the lockdown and from other various news sources. This article was essentially a live-update, meaning it was being updated as the events were happening, rather than being published after all of the events happened.


Technology in the classroom

This article talks about there is a company called Amplify that is creating an all-digital English class for middle-school students. It supposedly allows teachers to see if their students really know the vocabulary that they’re using in the Twitters and on other social media platforms. Each student would get a tablet that includes games, videos, and vocab apps. Although it is never directly stated, I’m going to safely assume that the school has non-educational websites blocked on their internet sever. However, the article does address the multiple problems that technology within the classroom has faced. As a kid who was given a MacBook Pro in 7th grade, I’m all-too familiar with the various ways somebody can get around the content that the school system blocked (Proxies are a fabulous invention).

This whole idea to introduce technology to younger and younger students is fascinating. The education systems of the United States have unintentionally made it so that, for many students, doing homework and writing papers is almost impossible without the use of the internet and digital media. There’s this notion that giving kids things like Kindles and iPads will help them become more technologically savvy later on in life. Personally, I don’t know if that’s true or if it will just make social interactions more difficult for those kids when they’re adults in the real world.

What Digital Writing Means to Me

Digital writing has allowed me to find my voice. Amy Tan is a writer who published an article that talks about the different types of Englishes that she uses and how they all influence the audience that she writes for and how she interacts with people on a daily basis. For me, this article was really inspirational. Having been in schools for 15 years now, I’m used to writing in my “essay voice”. Everybody’s got one. It’s that (sometimes) dull, didactic, “I’m using large words to sound smart” voice that people use when they’re writing papers to hand in to their professors or teachers. That’s the voice that I’ve been using my whole in writing a paper. It’s rare that professors have their students write a paper that uses “I” and actually encourages the use of personal experience to back-up their argument.

I feel like this class has been centered around helping students find their voices not only when writing online, but also in the real world. In creating my blog, I have learned who I am on the internet. Now, I realize that sounds like I’ve created some wild alter-ego for the internet. That’s not true. I think in a sense, I feel a little bit safer on the internet (on certain websites, of course) because it gives me a sense of anonymity. Yeah, I can put a picture of myself up on the internet, but I’m allowed to share only as much as I want to.

In terms of how the digital world will help me in terms of my semester project and my life beyond Dickinson – I’m still figuring out what those things will be. I know that for my final project, I want to do some sort of visual. What type of visual that will be, I’m not sure on yet. I grew up in a time where we (people my age) are expected how to use the latest and greatest technology. Whatever I decide to do for my final project and later on in my life, I know that digital writing will always have a huge presence in my life.


Works Cited

1. Austen, Ian, and Rick Gladstone. “Gunman Panics Ottawa, Killing Soldier in Spree at Capital.” The New York Times. The New York Times, 22 Oct. 2014. Web. 22 Oct. 2014.

2. DigiRhet.org. “Teaching Digital Rhetoric: Community, Critical Engagement, and Application.” p 238. Fall 2004. Web. 22 Oct. 2014. <http://www.cws.illinois.edu/IPRHDigitalLiteracies/digirhet.pdf>.

3. Morris, Sean Michael. “Digital Writing Uprising: Third-order Thinking in the Digital Humanities.”Hybrid Pedagogy. N.p., 8 October 2012. Web. 22 October 2014.

4. Rajchel, Jen. “Consider the Audience,” in Web Writing: Why and How for Liberal Arts Teaching and Learning, ed. Jack Dougherty and Tennyson O’Donnell (University of Michigan Press/Trinity College ePress edition, 2014), http://epress.trincoll.edu/webwriting/chapter/rajchel.

5. Rich, Motoko. “New All-Digital Curriculums Hope to Ride High-Tech Push in Schoolrooms.” The New York Times. The New York Times, 2 Mar. 2014. Web. 22 Oct. 2014.

6. Tan, Amy. “Mother Tongue.” Read. 6 Oct. 2006: 20-23. Print

7.Vingiano, Alison. “Canada’s Prime Minister Says Deadly Ottawa Attack Was Terrorism.”BuzzFeed. 22 Oct. 2014. Web. 22 Oct. 2014.

8. Wright, Leigh.“Tweet Me A Story,” in Web Writing: Why and How for Liberal Arts Teaching and Learning, ed. Jack Dougherty and Tennyson O’Donnell (University of Michigan Press/Trinity College ePress edition, 2014),http://epress.trincoll.edu/webwriting/chapter/wright.


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