The Field of Play (II)

Some thoughts on the field of play, where thinking happens and understanding grows:

MEDIA


II

If you’re interested in what media is, you talk about the form that media takes. It takes many forms. Today, the form of media begins again to be in flux with potential for substantial evolution (again). But it’s important to review current types first. If you want to prognosticate on what will come, you have to think about what has been and what is, first.

You could say that a spreadsheet is a medium. If you said so you’d be right. A spreadsheet is a form of media with a particular set of characteristics that we’re all more or less familiar with, even if we don’t use spreadsheets. The inherent nature of spreadsheets embodies fundamental aspects of the way we think. Spreadsheets facilitate an ability to list, an ability to correlate, to track, to calculate, to sum, to compare, and so on, with the complexity of comparison ranging from simple to complicated. A review of the kinds of thinking involved there could make an interesting article. I may come back to that someday, but for my purpose here it’s sufficient to simply identify spreadsheet as a type of media, and note that the medium has particular characteristics supporting particular kinds of thinking.

I think anyone would agree if asked that a spreadsheet is a field of play, a place where thinking happens and understanding grows. There’s no doubt about this.

Let’s move to writing. The text document is a medium, of course, an obvious and primary one. It’s an essential form, of media, a form that from its age and it’s clear utility has matured to the point that quite a number of sub-forms are recognized, like: the article, the essay, the novel, the fiction and non-fiction, the magazine, the dictionary, the website, the internet, the social media, the blog, the letter, the kind of letter, and so on. Like spreadsheet, there is no doubt that writing is a field of play, a place where thinking happens and understanding grows. There can be literally no one who doesn’t recognize this. The idea of “writing process” is familiar to all.

We have certain thoughts, and here we have to say, “what is thought?” Again let’s not get bogged down in detailed analysis, particularly of questions that neither scientists nor philosophers can answer. It’s not answer that we’re looking for, but simply recognition. And to get that, let’s entertain a small bit of philosophizing. We have certain “thoughts”. And these are pre-verbal. There is some kind of irritation in our mind. We can’t articulate its source, but we know we detect something that either we don’t like, or that we do like and want. And what this is, what we want or don’t want, like or don’t like, well, we can’t be precise, yet. We simply know that something must be said. We don’t know what, precisely, but “precisely” is too high a bar to begin with; both our irritation that compels us to respond, and the nature of our response, both of these might be not clear at all, just out there in dense fog. It’s to escape this fog that we’re compelled to think.

And to think, we need some kind of medium. The medium is language, and, with our language we can sit alone with our thoughts, for hours, thinking until we arrive at a well-formed idea clearly expressed. And we can speak it. Or we can keep it to ourselves. Either way, a clear thought can be lost in an instant. We all know this. We’ve all felt what it’s like to build a beautiful framework of ideas, and the most striking use of language driving an idea like an axe in wood. We know this clarity. And we also know that in an instant, suddenly it all disappears. The clarity, the ideas, the framework, all gone, forgotten.

And so we have written language, writing. Writing helps us remember what the hell we were trying to think about in the first place. Writing let’s us see the course and speed of our thoughts. We need this. Without it, we’re at the mercy of very real limits on our attention span in a life full of distractions. Writing, without doubt, is a field of play, a place where thinking happens and understanding grows. The act of writing is the, yes painful, act we force ourselves into because we have no other choice. Response to the initial irritation urging our response, is not optional.

We begin to write, somehow. How do we do that? That’s like saying, how do we swim? We swim by swimming. It gets easier the longer we do it. After many years, it’s easier to begin, and more productive. In any case, we read our writing as we write it. We evaluate what we say and how we say it. We ask, does it have a point? Is it creating a picture worth seeing? Is it going somewhere? We get angry with ourselves when we do it poorly. It’s not anger for mistakes in grammar. It’s anger that the motivating irritation is not well addressed, that our thought has not taken adequate form in response. It’s only when the response is adequate that we’ve written well. It means we’ve thought well.

We can say with absolute certainty that writing is a medium within which thinking happens and understanding grows.

Go to part 3: Field of Play (III)

Return to part 1: Field of Play (I)