Natural is Relative
In his essay "From Pencils to Pixels," professor and author Dennis Baron wrote, "We have a way of getting so used to writing technologies that we come to think of them as natural rather than technological. We assume that pencils are a natural way to write because they are old…" (51). When assigned to develop my own writing technology, however, I discovered that this common human conception is wrong. Dead wrong. And the word "natural" - as we use it today - is relative.
My mission was to forego modern writing tools (pencils, pens, paper, chalk, etc.) and write 20 words or less with natural materials of my choosing. The word "natural" was debatable, however. Produce, for example, is considered natural, but to use an apple that has been picked, cleaned, packaged and then sold at a supermarket is arguably less natural than using an apple straight from a tree.
I wanted to aim high and avoid the quasi-natural, so I settled for pine needles. They were abundant at my parents' house and easy to break apart in order to form letters, I reasoned. Due to an excess of winter weather, I would have no choice but to spell out my text in the snow.
Winter was in full swing during the afternoon I trekked outside to complete the assignment. I could not manage to do more than 30 seconds of "writing" without a huge icy gust of wind passing through and taking my project with it. I needed something a bit heavier, and I decided to use small sticks.
Just the process of gathering twigs was a somewhat tedious one. Each stick had to be thin and relatively knob-free so I could break it easily, but if it was too thin, it risked being blown away. I was developing my technology and attempting to craft it to perfection - or at least effectiveness - much like the early creators of the pencil. "The engineer Harry Petroski (1990) portrays the development of the wood-cased pencil as a paradigm of the engineering process, hinging on the solution of two essential problems…. Pencil technologies involve advanced design techniques…" (Baron, "Pencils" 39).
Since I was to share my project in class, I wanted to write something fun and random. I was all set on Monty Python's "Nobody expects the Spanish Inquisition" quote when I squatted over an expanse of snow with my handful of twigs. However, my hands were raw from the cold a mere 60 seconds later, and I had barely created three letters. Already I ached for the warmer surroundings and 90-words-a-minute convenience of Microsoft Word. I decided that "Hello English 328" would be a more practical undertaking and rearranged my first few letters accordingly.
The letters themselves were about two inches in height and very crude-looking. Ordinarily curved letters and numbers became choppy and rigid because my sticks were impossible to bend. The writing material prevented any sort of uniqueness in style, which made me wonder how I would be perceived in the 17th century when, "Like a speaker's accent,...