Writing With Knobs

This morning after breakfast, I dialed another image into my new Pocket Etch-A-Sketch. Contrary to what some people think when they find out that I can draw more than steps on an Etch-A-Sketch, it's neither a result of practice nor patience. A few years ago I picked one up and simply could draw on it, I'm not sure why. Some people can see those damned Magic Eye images and some can't, others can draw with an Etch-A-Sketch.

Anyway, for the minute or two that I was twirling the knobs (evidenced above) I thought of ways to use Etch-A-Sketches in my fall Writing Technologies course. I like hauling different writing gizmos into class every few weeks to have students learn to use and possibly hack different technologies, and an Etch-A-Sketch includes a particularly odd stylus in that it's manipulated with the two knobs that regulate directional movement differently but in tandem (which is why you can do more than just go up-down and left-right).

Of course, many writing technologies involve us in manipulations where one hand is doing one thing while the other is doing something else—typing is the most obvious example, for those of us who type with two hands (TT?), but even whacking letters into stone or wood has each hand up to something quite different.

But Etch-A-Sketch may be unique in manipulating a stylus in this way; pantographs move the stylus by remote control, in the way that Etch-A-Sketches do, but not in knobular fashion. Twist twist.

I remember once giving an Etch-A-Sketch to BP and asking her to draw a picture. First she said "No way. I don't do Etch-A-Sketch." But then after some coaxing—any picture, just something—she gave it a brief try, made a complete mess, and got royally frustrated.

Interactions with writing machines of that kind are useful, I think, as they reveal the embodied capacities we cultivate and then utilize when we write. I guess we take them for granted, too, and relearn some elements each time we go to use a new scribbler.

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