Kim’s Reflections: The Ideal Writing Environment?

Over the course of my hashtag study and composing posts for this blog, I was given the opportunity to experiment with multiple different writing tools. For my first post, I used ZenPen. For the second, I composed with Google Docs. After those were the Microsoft Word for Tablet app, a typewriter, and WordPress. All of these tools had interesting points, as well as drawbacks. But the question remains: What would the ideal writing environment be for me?

First, I’ll look at the elements about ZenPen that I like. After messing around with it after my initial post about it, I’ve come to like it a bit more. The ability to invert colors is a nice touch to make things easier on the eyes, the text is nice and big, and the interface is extremely simple and user-friendly. What I don’t like about it, however, is that it saves things in a browser window. In order to take things and move to another device, I’d have to save my writing to my computer and upload it onto the new computer. This is significantly more of a dilemma to me than it would be to others; I write very long texts and often have to work from different computers.

Another fun point: I can use it from my Chromebook, to take screenshots like so.
Another fun point: I can use it from my Chromebook, to take screenshots like so. 

Google Docs is my primary writing tool because it runs on all of my devices, and it’s similar to the word processors I grew up on (so it’s a lot less “alien.”). However, I’ve started to shy away from it where my personal writing is concerned. I’m glad to have things backed up, yes, but what happens if my account gets hacked? Something about storing writing on a cloud, in a document that’s easily accessed by anyone using my account, doesn’t sit right with me. Draftback is pretty cool, though.

Tablet apps like Microsoft Word for Tablet are generally a “no” for me. They’re too hard to work with, no matter what sort of setup I try to use. Even using a bluetooth keyboard, like I usually do with my tablet, proves frustrating. It’s too slow, editing is more difficult than on a laptop, and tablet apps require more effort to back up. Still, when your computer’s down, it’s nice to have a backup… and this can be used without Internet access, if you’re ever in a pinch.

Typewriters are outdated, and for a good reason–their keys jam, they require a fair amount of force that makes one’s hands hurt after writing, and typos are nigh impossible to correct on them. Still, they have their charm. The clacking sound of the keys is incredibly satisfying, as is the little bell that sounds when you reach the end of a line. Plus, they look incredibly cool. If not for the difficult points of writing on a typewriter, they’d probably be my go-to writing tool!

On the other hand, there is the USB Typewriter...
On the other hand, there is the USB Typewriter…

Finally, there is WordPress. I love to blog–I run a not-completely-terrible movie review blog in my spare time–but at the same time, I sort of hate blogging. I don’t like to put my thoughts into writing and then, without any middleman to tell me any flaws I’ve done, send them out to the public. (There’s a reason my blog doesn’t update often.) Furthermore, I don’t particularly like WordPress– its layout is difficult to navigate compared to similar sites, and if you have more than one blog there can be major chaos. But it’s probably the best way to reach a wider audience, so there’s something infinitely satisfying about it… if I could learn to use it well.

So, after analyzing all of these tools and apps, what can I say about my ideal writing environment? I’d say it would be a Frankenstein’s Monster composed of the best elements of all five tools: Distraction-free and user-friendly like ZenPen, familiar and stable like Google Docs (coupled with instant-saving), private and Internet-free like tablet apps, quirky and unique like the typewriter, and audience-friendly like WordPress. Since a lot of these things might seem to contradict each other, finding the best possible writing environment would require abandoning whatever elements I deem least necessary.

So, what can we really take from my intense fickleness? Mainly, that what constitutes a “good” writing environment is a matter of personal preference and nothing more. (There are people who use Notepad and nothing but Notepad, after all…) In Personal Connections in the Digital Age, Nancy K. Baym states that people’s views on technologies are reflective. (p. 28) This means that a person’s like or dislike about a site is usually caused by some personal bias for or against certain things.  As a result, the way I view these tools is more about me and my finicky nature than any real flaw with the tools themselves. My initial complaints about ZenPen were that the text size couldn’t be adjusted and it was hard to get creative; this could be attributed to a desire for a more “traditional” word processing tool that looked similar to Microsoft Word.

I’m still looking for the best writing tool for me, but switching between two or three environments every now and then provides a pretty good balance. And changing to adapt to some of the more “foreign” ones to me certainly couldn’t hurt…

Kim’s Reflections: The Ideal Writing Environment?

Kim’s Thoughts on the Diary of Writing Technology Activities

For an assignment for my Writing, Research and Technology Class, I was asked to track my phone usage for 48 hours. Each time I picked up my phone, I had to write down the activity I was doing, how long it lasted, and what (if anything) I interrupted to check on my phone.

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I started my assignment at 6:00 PM on Monday, February 23rd, and ended it at 6:00 PM on Wednesday, February 25th.

During the course of this assignment, I picked up my phone 56 individual times.

Activities:

Phone calls: 2 times (social) (1 minute)
Text messages: 15 times (social/textual) (2 minutes)
Facebook: 5 times (social/textual) (10 minutes)
Google Survey: 1 time (social) (2 minutes)
Spotify: 5 times (social) (4 hours)
Other social websites: 3 times (social) (15 minutes)
Google Sheets: 1 time (textual) (2 minutes)
Google Docs: 2 times (textual) (10 minutes)
Email: 2 times (textual/social) (5 minutes)
Browsing the Internet: 3 times (social/textual) (10 minutes)
Tweeting: 10 times (textual/social) (4 minutes)
Playing games: 3 times (social) (30 minutes
Miscellaneous social activities: 4 times (social) (10 minutes)

Total time spent on phone: 5 hours, 41 minutes.

It wasn’t all that difficult to take note of each activity… except when I was walking around. Unfortunately, most of my periods of heavy phone usage occur when I’m walking somewhere. In these instances, I had to make sure I only checked my phone when I could get to a flat surface to write on, or to make mental notes to write the information down the minute I got to one. The little Field Notes book was easy to carry it around as I walked, and I was able to write down all the phone activity that took place.

Things filled up rather quickly at first.
Things filled up rather quickly at first.

I feel as if this activity connects to technological determinism because, well, tracking technology on paper is sometimes horrifically inconvenient. While I was conducting the assignment, I often wondered if it would be easier and more efficient for me to keep the log in a Google Sheets document instead. I definitely think technological determinism is a spot-on perspective; the more new writing technologies come my way, the less I like writing by hand.

I decided to lessen my phone usage during the 48-hour period. The main reason for doing this was so I didn’t have to write down a note every five seconds. Fortunately, since I don’t get a lot of texts and have other methods of communicating with my friends (mainly from my Chromebook), no big problems occurred. I wasn’t acting against societal pressure to use technology so much as plain ignoring society’s pressures by doing things on my own terms. I’m not into text-based communication due to its awkwardness and lack of direct emotional expression, so it wasn’t very hard to do.

Sadly, though, there were times when more important things got interrupted.
Sadly, though, there were times when more important things got interrupted. (Sorry, Professor Wolff!)

Considering how I still logged a considerable amount of time spent on my phone, though, what does it say about my phone usage during a normal week? In a 48-hour period of more typical phone usage, I suspect the numbers would double.

I wasn’t all that surprised to find that other apps took up the rest of my time, since I don’t text much. Most of my phone usage was when listening to music on Spotify… which totaled up to 4 hours of my total time because I spent all of my time scrolling around on the app. I also spent a lot more time on phone games than I thought I would; though it only totaled about 30 minutes, that’s twice as much as I expected. This tells me that I’m more interested in music and interactive media than participatory culture.

In her book Personal Connections in the Digital Age, Nancy Baym says that “People, technologies, and institutions all have power to influence the development and subsequent use of technology.” (p. 47) I agree wholeheartedly with this assumption, and believe that our society has fully changed the way we do things, and has created a boatload of technological advancements. But that doesn’t mean I feel the need to O.D. on them just because others around me do.

I love my phone, and I feel it plays a vital role in my life, but I wouldn’t say it’s been fully domesticated into my life yet. It’s an incredibly convenient tool in many ways, but not something I can’t live without. It does, however, offer me things that a lot of other devices cannot: considerable portability, relatively quick ability to interact with others, and a lot of interesting other bits of interactivity. The way that my phone use changed reflects my fight against the current technology overload in the world: I don’t particularly care about what the “societal norms” regarding technology usage are. I do either what I have to do or want to do when it comes to my technology usage.

I’m not sure I’m as digitally literate as I thought I was before this project. I know how to navigate the spaces I enjoy, but not so much how to branch out beyond them. Interacting on social networking beyond close friends sites like Facebook is still a profoundly bizarre experience; self-promotion and “selfies” are things I try to avoid like the plague. It’s jarring to see others around me who are so accustomed to using technology already and how the world changes to make us even more tech-friendly–this is part of the social shaping phenomenon where tech and users feed each other’s changes–but I’m slowly coming around to changing as well.

Here's the back of my Field Notes. I drew my phone, which I nicknamed Harold.
Here’s the back of my Field Notes. I drew my phone, which I nicknamed Harold 3.0 as part of a running joke.
Kim’s Thoughts on the Diary of Writing Technology Activities