Blogs vs Journals: Caught in “The Gutenberg Galaxy”

Palm Desert, California: December 22, 2012

©Linda Watanabe McFerrin

Spectacular and panoramic morning at 6:30 a.m. on the balcony of my villa at Palm Desert’s Desert Springs Marriott and here I was getting set to rhapsodize about the snow-dusted San Jacinto Mountains in the distance, the towering palms, the Mary-and-Joseph-gee-whiz-I-can’t-believe-it’s-almost-Christmas baby-blue sky with its little collar of cottony cloud when I realized I didn’t have a journal with me. Drat.

It took me a while to remember that I did have my laptop. That’s good.

So here I sit punching keys, writing about the way the dawn sky pearls toward daylight. It’s not really the same is it? I look up at all that splendor and then down, not at the snowy, beautifully textured pages of a journal specially selected to suit my personality, upon which my little, also specially selected pen scratches the totally individual and admittedly often hard to read trail of my observations, but, rather, at an almost clinically featureless screen designed with standardization in mind.

Up to light spilling over rooftops … down to document 1 … up to welts of retreating shadow … down to letters and symbols. Pause. Pause. The moment is lost. You know, it just isn’t working.

An ongoing discussion about the value of the handwritten journal over the electronic kind continues among my writing friends. I blog, but there are times when I would prefer to put pen to paper—though that kind of confession would mark me as a fossil in some circles. Regardless, I have to admit that part of me is in complete agreement with Graham Greene who, in an earlier day wrote, “My two fingers on a typewriter have never connected with my brain. My hand on a pen does. A fountain pen, of course. Ball-point pens are only good for filling out forms on a plane.”

I do think that writing in a journal affords one the kind of pleasure in craftsmanship that a woodworker who uses hand tools rather than power tools might feel; so it becomes a debate about tools, which for a species defined by its tool-making capacity is an important one.

Exploring the changes wrought by print technology—a similar revolution to the one we are currently experiencing—Marshal McLuhan, communication theory philosopher and author of The Gutenberg Galaxay, whose ruminations on the “global village”—a term he is credited with coining—proved prescient, wrote, “Print is the extreme phase of alphabet culture that detribalizes or decollectivizes man in definition. Thus print carries the individuating power of the phonetic alphabet much further than manuscript culture could ever do. Print is the technology of individualism. If men decided to modify this visual technology by an electric technology, individualism would also be modified. To raise a moral complaint about this is like cussing a buzz-saw for lopping off fingers.”

McLuhan also declared, “We become what we behold. We shape our tools and then our tools shape us.”

Is that why my post about the natural world has morphed in to a post about the act of capturing the natural world?

According to McLuhan, “Instead of tending towards a vast Alexandrian library the world has become a computer, an electronic brain, exactly as an infantile piece of science fiction. And as our senses have gone outside us, Big Brother goes inside.”

These days I feel pulled inexorably from a clumsy, but beautiful world of artifact into the ephemeral stream of consciousness.

The delicate morning light has withdrawn and a strong desert sun has begun punching its way toward noon. The sky has become a cloudless and constant cerulean ceiling; the shadows are shrinking to nubs. Page or screen, I’ve come to the end of my “moment.”

Save and share.

You can’t do that with a journal.

—Linda Watanabe McFerrin

5 Responses to “Blogs vs Journals: Caught in “The Gutenberg Galaxy””

  1. Jared says:

    Yes you can.
    Fountain Pen. Parchment. Tactile, thoughtful communication.


  2. Greg Fuller says:

    The tactile response is so superior. Yes, as noted, requires another iteration to transfer to the transferable. Having your first, unedited version in a medium that could last hundreds –or thousands — of years is certainly worthwhile. Yet we run at a fast pace, even when recording reflections. Perhaps you can have (almost) both as technology progresses, writing on paper that translates to electronic. Or a pad with pen stylus and screen formatted like a fine paper journal. Perhaps you won’t have to choose. Still …

  3. jobiggar says:

    Lovely reflections from the desert Christmas scene, and I, of course, being the Luddite that I am, choose the journal option, for all those tactile reasons you so beautifully described.

  4. I admire people who can get that sentence right — with pen and ink — on the first try.

    My writing got sooooo much better back in the ’70s when we got computers at the SF Chronicle and I could change that pesky sentence back and forth over and over again till I got it right — sorta.

    Happy writing in 2013 to one and all!

  5. Georgia I. Hesse says:

    Ah, my dear L…W…M…: I find myself standing beside you as the sun rises to warm the earth and Gutenberg fades before Google. I think fondly of Isabella Bird lying on her back somewhere in Africa, stretching out her arms to touch as much of that earth as she could, and feeling a strange sensation she couldn’t define until she turned to her journal and penned what it really was: complete happiness. That wouldn’t have happened, I think, if she’d had a computer, even with battery life left. I still “take pen in hand” for notes of condolence, sympathy, and thanks, but not often enough just for fun. You remind me to do it from time to time, but will I? Qui sait? Georgia

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