In his enormously entertaining book, The Shallows, Nicholas Carr tells us about Friedrich Nietzsche’s travels around Europe in 1881 in search of a cure for his failing health, or at least a period of remission. His eyesight was deteriorating, and he was finding it increasingly difficult to focus on a page of writing for any length of time as it caused monstrous headaches and bouts of vomiting. Nietzsche was at his wit’s end and feared he would have to give up writing altogether. In 1882 he ordered a typewriter, a Malling-Hansen Writing Ball. Carr goes on to tell how the Writing Ball was Nietzsche’s saviour for a time, and once he learned to touch-type, he was back to himself again.
A close friend of Nietzsche’s, Heinrich Koselitz, began to notice a change in Nietzsche’s writing. He remarked on the new ‘forcefulness’ of the prose, and the ‘tight’ structure of his compositions. Nietzsche’s response to his friend’s comment was “Our writing equipment takes part in the forming of our thoughts”.
(Nicholas Carr, The Shallows. pgs 18-19)
Reading this made me think about the tools I use to write. It sounds foolish and immature to admit that I’ve always preferred a 2B pencil – somehow it just feels right! I know some who can sit down at a computer, close their eyes, and off they go, but the words won’t flow that way for me. There’s something about holding the pencil and physically forming the words that feels far more ‘real’. I can think while writing the words, sound them out in my head. I’ve often wondered if many others feel this way.
My writing is different when I type. I feel as if it’s more restricted somehow, not as free to be whatever it wants. I feel as if I should write to suit the appearance of the blank screen, whereas, a physical page can look just the way I want it to – I can doodle in the corners, I can cross out whole sections, I can draw maps and directions – I can hear the words better when I write them.
How different then, are the thoughts of the individual who is ‘born digital’ from those of the older, less tech-savvy person?
Speaking of writing, read this amazing account of the journey: