Control Shift: Documenting the TransitionsWriters Experienced in Moving from Paper-Based to Digital Environments

Devin Becker, Assistant Professor, Digital Initiatives and Scholarly Communications Librarian

As Salman Rushdie’s computers and John Updike’s floppy disks attest, the materials deposited by prominent writers into Special Collections and Archives are increasingly digital in nature. Accordingly, much has been written about how librarians and archivists are dealing with this transition (See Kolowich, for example). Little research, however, addresses how the writers who produced these materials experienced the transition from working in a primarily paper-based environment to working in a primarily digital environment, even though this dearth of information represents a fundamental gap in our understanding of one of the most profound shifts in writing technologies and workspaces in history.

The goal of my project is to begin documenting and examining writers’ historic transition to the digital. To do so, I plan to conduct 10, in-person interviews with prominent creative writers whose careers have necessitated the negotiation of both digital and paper-based systems of writing and organization. Documenting the reactions and recollections of this generation of writers is both important and urgent work, as these are the only writers who have experienced fully and firsthand the profound shift the practice of writing has undergone in recent history. As such, the work should lead to additional publication and funding opportunities.