Qualitative Sociology

, Volume 7, Issue 1–2, pp 75–89 | Cite as

Reading, writing and word processing: Toward a phenomenology of the computer age

  • Peter Lyman


Ethnographers “read” cultures and in writing inscribe memory into texts; in literature, a “reading” is a dialogue with a writer through the medium the text, and writing translates text into action. In a study of humanists using the microcomputer as a writing technology, changes were perceived in the phenomenology of writing, the writer's relation to the text, and the relation to the reader. Typists remarked that the computer enabled them to recover “a spoken voice” because the screen gave the text a processual and temporal form which replaced the inflexible typed page. Handwriters often remarked that the computer changed humanistic craft labor into industrial production: the screen gave privilege to the lexical in place of the graphic; the sentence replaced the paragraph as a unit of meaning; writing became a medium for transmitting information rather than an artistic performance. Humanists perceived that technical norms were embedded in technical culture and software, and that the computer marked a shift in the reward structure of their professions toward productivity and efficiency. This suggests three issues for the writing crafts of ethnographers. Electronic memory may replace the interpretive text, making fieldnotes public and treating them as information. The technical capacity to organize fieldnotes in data bases may shift the fieldworker's conception of knowledge from interpretation to information. And consuming the norms and concepts of technical culture may shift the craftlike norms of the field worker's culture.

All earthly existence must ultimately be contained in a book.



Social Psychology Data Base Industrial Production Social Issue Field Worker 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


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Copyright information

© Human Sciences Press 1984

Authors and Affiliations

  • Peter Lyman
    • 1
  1. 1.James Madison CollegeMichigan State UniversityEast Lansing

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