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Redefining Digital Writing in an Analog World

Mon, April 16, 10:35am to 12:05pm, New York Hilton Midtown, Floor: Second Floor, Gibson Suite


Recognizing the cultural-historical context that guides how systems operate (Author, 2017; Gall, 1977), this paper challenges contemporary definitions of “digital” writing and offers a vision of writing that is shaped by how social technologies can sustain critical and civic identities. Through exploring the writing practices of out-of-school communities in both online and offline environments, this paper highlights aspects of writing that are too often discarded. By focusing on extracurricular activities such as gaming and online storytelling, this paper considers the ramifications of how digital writing is constrained in school-based contexts. Leveraging a framework informed by sound studies, this paper challenges an infatuation with “digital” writing that—like a highly compressed MP3 file—can distort and falsely echo imperfections of an otherwise analog source; as Sterne (2012) notes, “Even though listeners may find them hard to consciously detect, subtle yet audible differences between MP3 and CD- -quality audio have become an important part of mediatic sound culture” (p. 161). By challenging contemporary policy definitions of 21st century writing (Garcia & Mirra, in review), this work highlights how school-focused writing—typically mediated by digital tools—essentializes tools of production for competitive and capitalist-driven outcomes. In contrast, this paper’s exploration of writing in out-of-school contexts explores how writing as a “social technology” (Flanagan, 2009) can function for critical, civic, and liberatory purposes.

Through comparing findings from two separate studies of out-of-school communities—a tabletop gaming community and an online storytelling group—this work highlights what contemporary writing means when removed from the auspices of “college and career readiness” in U.S. classrooms (CCSSO & NGA, 2010). In particular, this paper intentionally weaves connections between non-digital and digital writing environments. For example, through exploring both the historical roots of tabletop roleplaying games (Author, 2017) and through unpacking how “gaming literacies” are enacted in non-digital environments (Garcia, in press), the first study in this paper emphasizes how non-digital gaming mirrors the production, publication, and communication practices of open source software communities (Coleman, 2012; Kelty, 2008). Likewise, the exploration of how online tools organize community-building in the second study emphasize that writing is built on a foundation of relationships, shared language practices, and cultural bonds.

Ultimately, this paper argues that a limiting definition of writing and production within schools highlights that this “platform” (Monfort & Bogost, 2009) is one that culturally limits student practices and identities vis-à-vis both technology and civic participation. By highlighting writing in contemporary environments that builds expansively through iteration, that engenders “connected learning” practices (Ito et al., 2013), and that fosters civic community, this paper argues for a new definition of what “digital” writing means when contributing to mutually-constituted standards for civic engagement.


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