“Not a Pencil”
Everyday millions of people around the world use some form of writing. When they send an e-mail, sign a check, or read a billboard these people are utilizing a technology that has been around for centuries. Like the wheel, writing is hardly ever viewed as a technology when compared to HD televisions, cell phones, and X Box. However, the way people write and what they use to write are more complex technologies than they seem. For nearly as long as writing has been around there have been those who have discussed, challenged and praised this technology, but these kinds of theories can sometimes be difficult for a literate person to consider. By trying to create a new writing technology, such theories become far easier to understand.
As part of an assignment for my writing class, I was asked to invent my own writing technology including something to write with and on. For my writing technology, I formed words with the juices of leaves and wrote on a piece of bark. To do this, I first needed to find a piece of bark that was big enough to write on and light enough so that the writing would show up. After getting a few pieces of bark from the trees near my house, I began experimenting by printing on them with the leaves from a houseplant. I did this by twisting one end of the leaf and smearing it onto the bark. Once I figured out the bark that worked the best, I wrote the words “Not a pencil.” I wrote this for two reasons. One reason is because it pointed out another writing technology that people rarely consider, the pencil. Secondly, it referenced the emphasis Denis Baron puts on the pencil in his article, “From Pencils to Pixels.”
How “good” my writing technology came out is difficult to determine. For one thing, it’s not particularly permanent. The bark breaks apart easily, and the letters would probably fade quickly if exposed to sunlight over a period of time. Water would most likely wash the letters away. As far as portability goes, the technology is easy to transport due to its size. However, if a longer text were written on a larger piece of bark, portability would become a bigger issue. Whether or not the technology is “natural” (one of the requirements of the project) is also hard to figure out. While it seems natural at first, with leaves and bark, the project was done during winter in Michigan. Therefore, obtaining green leaves to write with wasn’t something I could do naturally, which is why I turned to the houseplant. The bark, while more natural, still can’t be considered completely natural because that patch of trees was “chosen” to remain standing despite development around them.
When creating a writing technology, one difficulty is coming up with reliable resources. In “From Pencils to Pixels,” Denis Baron explains how “the pencil industry in the eighteenth century was buffeted by such vagaries as the unpredictable supply of graphite [and] dwindling cedar...