Environment and writing

I posted yesterday over at my blog blinkingti.me on the idea of researching an “editor’s algorithm” (reblogged here today) – essentially, working out what great editors of newspapers have done and do, and then bottling it for perpetuity; maybe, too, for the benefit of other purposes.

Today, meanwhile, Guardian Masterclasses asked us this question:

And I replied thus:

The conversation went on to discuss the observation that different CMS, blog layouts and names, website taglines etc affected how we wrote: sentence structure, register, mannerisms in writing and so forth.

I even suggested the following, with respect to bad habits:

So when Jay Rosen argues that buildings do stuff to people in the newspaper industry – the four walls that structure our sightlines, familiarities, certainties, the permanences in fact which allow us to work together in sustained ways – perhaps these edifices are not only physical.

For when a writer, whether a Parker-pen fan or  a keyboard obsessive, changes the physicality of their writing environment, the tools they are using – their impact I mean – change subtly too.  And this subtle change in the extension of what it is to be a communicating human being may rather radically change what they output.

I suppose, really, we shouldn’t underestimate the importance of environment in anything – but, in particular, in communication.

A case in point: I visited the Guardian newspaper’s offices recently a number of times as a fairly random visitor.  On all of the occasions, I felt safe, in familiar surroundings and with a complete understanding of place.  It was an easy-to-navigate place, is what I mean.  Usually, even in a pub, popping up the stairs to the toilets say, on coming out I go the wrong way back down.

But something here clever was engineered – purposefully or no – in the offices of this newspaper.  Much as a good CMS – or, alternatively, if you prefer, a well-balanced fountain pen! – feels immediately comfortable to the soul, and provokes the right kind of communication, equally a clunky interface can generate quite the worst kind of drivel.

From the same person too on very separate occasions.

What I’m really saying here is that whilst Rosen is correct on the importance of those four walls, of the literal physicalness of bricks & mortar, of their institutional sustaining, of their power to lead, we shouldn’t underestimate the effect of – nor lightly implement – new tools for old hands, even where these are “simply” electronic extensions of ourselves.

As with teaching and training, better a professional with a bad book they know how to navigate and get the most out of than a professional with a good book they’re still a tad unfamiliar with.

And as I pursue adequate technologies for hyperlocal projects multiple, perhaps the lesson I’ve just described should be one I need, myself, to learn better.


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