February 14, 2004

Does Writing Make You More Literate? Do You Learn More?

This is a question that came up last night at dinner, with Kevin Marks, Robert Scoble, Loic La Meur and Tantek Celik. Tantek posed the question, which is actually something I've been thinking and writing about for the past couple of weeks. What I said was that this medium, blogging, which has so easily allowed me to write daily (mostly), has changed my life. The ease, form and function are integral to causing me to pick it up daily, and to think about what I have to say when I'm not in front of the interface. But there is more than that, when I say that it's changed my life.

I believe there are different ways that people learn, ways that include auditory, note-taking, discussion, lecture, writing and reading but there are probably more. I learn in a way from all of these transmissions of information, but realize that, maybe due to a lifetime of training, I learn a lot while taking notes during any of these experiences. However, writing is a process that changes things more radically for me. When I take in some piece of information, I may react, may think about how I feel, what I believe, what the framework and logic surrounding the information are, but initially I'm still following the flow of the other source. I may critique it, pull it apart, Fisk it, but I'm still mostly trailing the one meaning (or submeaning) from the source, to the next thought and then the next. It's someone else's at root meaning, and I don't explore completely the other possibilities with each piece of logic in their flow of ideas, yet. Though often this level of understanding does bring about something more than a quick reading.

But a deep retelling, discussion, or writing, will cause me to internalize the information far more deeply than the reading and even Fisking or pulling apart. It is that deepest apprehension, finding and retelling my own logic, writing it down and causing myself to think it through, as meaning flows from one idea to the next that pushes me to find multiple extensive meanings. And so in writing it down, retooling it, changing it around and getting what I find most compelling straight that I feel most deeply connected with the information and the meanings, and the choices I've made in explaining or demonstrating.

So the answer is yes, writing does make me more literate. It's changed everything, writing daily (beyond either email/IM/txt or the other end: academic work which was never daily). But I'm not sure I can extrapolate this to what I see others doing. However, it may be that for the millions of bloggers who now in some form or another write daily too, even if it's just a list of links (there's still framing, choice, title etc to consider), find deepened meaning from the process, which in my case is very much spurred on by the ease of digital media and the linking between other writers publishing in and via this always-on discussion medium.

The reason I say it's changed my life is that writing has caused what I describe above, a deepened understanding and expression, but publishing online has caused a complete shift in my relationships, my community, my work, and my interests and commitments. It's turned everything upside down, and yet, what I commit to, and write about is more definitively right and consistent for me than I could have imagined before I started. The combination of these is radical.

Posted by Mary Hodder at February 14, 2004 07:37 AM | TrackBack

Hi Mary, was great to meet you there. As a non native english speaker, writing in english every day is also excellent exercise !

Posted by: Loic at February 16, 2004 02:14 AM