Bouchardon and Petit defend the concept of digital writing and the teaching thereof. We can accept that digital writing exists, with its specific properties and tensions, but can it be taught? Specifically, the pedagogical dimension of what is known as "digital" writing, the authors argue, would do well to follow a study on the relationship between writing and computer science that was sponsored by the Picardy region : PRECIP, PRatiques d'ÉCriture Interactive en Picardie (interactive writing practices in Picardy).
Introduction: Writing in troubled waters
"Computer technology, both a product of and a tool for calculation, has submitted the written text, image processing, musical sounds and the vibrations of the human voice to the same digital writing process. The extension of its applications is so far-reaching that we may indeed feel troubled or disturbed by the continued use of the term, 'writing'. However machines do write, and they write everything", argues Clarisse Herrenschmidt.1Clarisse Herrenschmidt, Les trois écritures : Langue, nombre, code, Paris, Gallimard, 2007 (our translation). This article deals with the troubled feelings which we may have when confronted with a machine that writes, as referred to by Clarisse Herrenschmidt. It aims to clarify such disarray thanks to the concept of digital writing, and the analysis of its pedagogical implications.
Digital technology, rather than dethroning the act of writing, multiplies and complexifies its uses. When the French field of Information and Communication Sciences2In France, Information and Communication Sciences has been recognized and studied as one discipline in university since the 1970s. In other words, this discipline integrates the two forms of writing mentioned above. examines "computerized media" (« Médias informatisés », Tardy and Jeanneret, 2007), it is really examining writing practices. In fact, as Cécile Tardy and Yves Jeanneret explain, "we thought we knew what writing meant, and that we needed to learn what Computer Science was, but in fact to be able to grasp what the latter involves, we have had to re-examine the former".3Cécile Tardy, Yves Jeanneret (dir.), L'écriture des médias informatisés, Paris, Lavoisier, 2007, p. 206. In the same vein, we believe that in order to understand our current digital technologies, we should first re-examine writing practices. From this standpoint, the computer is a multi-faceted and complex machine which has at least one very clear consequence: the extension of the domain of writing, in the same way as our possibilities for calculation have been enhanced and multiplied.
Our point of view on writing is first and foremost a stance on technology, which we could express in very simple terms by saying that technology is anthropologically constitutive.4This point of view is that of the Costech research laboratory in Compiègne. It is summarized by Pierre Steiner in « Philosophie, technologie et cognition. État des lieux et perspectives », Intellectica, 2010/1-2, 53/54, p.7-40. The general philosophy behind this paper is one in which both dimensions of writing, namely its technical (or material) dimension, and its symbolic (or cultural) dimension are inseparable. To consider writing as a technology of the intellect is to say that it is constitutive of meaning, of intersubjective relationships and communication, and of a common universe.
Our paper will be developed here in two distinct parts. In the first, we will study the manner in which writing in general is turning towards digital writing in particular, and we will justify the very expression 'digital writing'. In the second, we will outline the specificities of digital writing, and describe a possible approach to teaching it. This paper thus draws attention to the tensions inherent to digital writing, which are responsible for the disarray evoked by Clasrisse Herrenschmidt, while at the same time proposing a possible remedy which lies in the teaching of digital literacy in schools.
Towards digital writing
For several decades now we have been experiencing renewed interest in questions surrounding the act of writing, the history of which is now well-documented. Our conviction, widely shared, is that the practices developed in Mesopotamia five millennia ago and those which are being developed today thanks to digital technology are all part of the same long history of writing practices.
The return of writing (the written trace and the physical medium)
Not until the second half of the twentieth century, in France at least, did two prominent writers, Jacques Derrida and Roland Barthes, bring the act of writing back to the forefront. Derrida sees writing as a trace, while Barthes is concerned with intertextuality. These two concepts are essential to understanding digital writing, even if they were not originally designed to describe it. Derrida's ideas are essential in that his critique of the metaphysics of presence, which relies on the notion of a trace deconstructing the opposition between presence and absence, is completely pertinent in the digital context.5One of the first changes in the relationship between tekhnè and epistémè is to be found in : " Origin of Geometry " by Husserl (1936), and particularly in Jacques Derrida's comments on this text (cf. Husserl, L'origine de l'a géométrie, Paris, PUF, , 2010, 6ème éd.). The question of writing, or of trace lies at the heart of several works published in 1967 : De la grammatologie, Paris, éd. de Minuit, 1967 ; La voix et le phénomène, Paris, PUF, 1967 ; L'écriture et la différence, Paris, Seuil, 1967. Although Derrida's trace concept is obviously not based on digital writing, it is not without relevance here, as Derrida also tried to reconcile writing and the machine (Jacques Derrida, Papier Machine, Paris, Galilée, 2001).
Roland Barthes' ideas are essential in that he succeeded in giving greater importance to text (open) than to a work itself (closed), and in meditating on what we would today call hypertextual writing6Intertextuality can of course not be collapsed into hypertextuality, which is a sub-category of intertextuality. Intertextuality is materialized in traces (allusions) that can operate outside a system of linking. But like links, they do call upon a relationship between two things in order to make meaning., which is an esssential form of digital writing.7Roland Barthes, S/Z, Paris, Seuil, 1970.
Digital writing produces writing in the narrowest sense of the word (texts), but also writing as we may consider it in a broader sense (traces). At the risk of exaggerating slightly, we could say that the specificity of writing today is that it must combine a culture of textuality (Digital Humanities) and a culture of traceability (Cultural Analytics).8This distinction is inspired by Christian Fauré, "Digital Studies (2) : Cultural Analytics", 2011, http://www.christian-faure.net/2011/08/03/digital-studies-2-cultural-analytics/. The notion of a trace, as with the multiple significations of the Chinese word for writing (wen), implies a non-human signification for writing. A trace, like an index, if we are to refer to Charles Sanders Peirce's theory of signs, is not intentional, but the trace, unlike the index, is volatile, and as such independent from the writer and from physical media. It is essentially derived, disseminated or decontextualized. The traceability inherent to all digital writing implies that all data can be associated with metadata, and that each enunciation context is associated with a decontextualized trace. The concept of trace not only dissociates writing from its author, but also makes it accessible to machines.
The concept of trace has only been an object of study in the French field of Information and Communication Sciences for a relatively short period of time, and as yet no clearly-defined interpretation has been determined. The domain of digital traceology, which Bernard Stiegler defends in Call for Digital Studies (Stiegler, 2016), does not yet benefit from the status of an independent discipline in the same way as archeological traceology. There are, however, related disciplines that arguably already track "traces of use"9Jean Davallon, "Chapitre I. L'usage dans le texte : les « traces d'usage » du site Gallica," in Souchier, E., Jeanneret, Y. & Le Marec, J. (dir.), Lire, écrire, récrire : objets, signes et pratiques des médias informatisés. Paris : Éditions de la BPI, 2003. in written form without calling them that per se.
We cannot hope to fully understand writing, texts, or traces without considering the physical media on which they rely. What we might refer to as the material turn taken by the French field of Information and Communication Sciences lies essentially in the study of the medium and the semantic effects thereof.10Social sciences took a material turn by starting to view technology as a social science in its own right (Mauss, Leroi-Gourhan, Haudricourt). Concerning the French field of Information and Communication Sciences, this material turn consisted in deflecting the user's attention from the message and directing it towards the medium. This does not however imply that the latter is purely physical in nature; indeed it is three-dimensional (material, formal, and ergodic), involving materials, forms and bodies (cf. Eleni Mitropoulou, Nicole Pignier, « Interroger les supports. Matières, formes et corps », Communication & Langages, n°182, déc. 2014, p. 13-28). Bruno Bachimont refers to "the theory of the medium" ("théorie du support") to illustrate the idea that "the properties of the substrate material used for inscription, as well as the physical form taken on by the inscription itself condition the intelligibility of the aforesaid inscription".11Bruno Bachimont, Le sens de la technique : Le numérique et le calcul, Encre Marine, 2010, p. 122. This material turn has also affected the domains of the philosophy and history of the media12Jussi Parikka, « New Materialism as Media Theory: Medianatures and Dirty Matter », Communication and Critical/Cultural Studies, vol. 9, n. 1, 2012, p. 95-100., Digital Studies 13Matthew Kirschenbaum, Sarah Werner,« Digital Scholarship and Digital Studies: the State of the Discipline », Book History, Volume 17, 2014, p.426 sq., and especially Software Studies.14Matthew Fuller , Software Studies. A Lexicon, MIT Press, 2008. Thus the "virtual" is not "immaterial". On the contrary, the body and mind of the author are fully engaged with his/her writing tools, and to comprehend our writing machines, we must first consider the materiality of the physical medium, and of the writing incorporated in that medium as Katherine Hayles has taught us.15Katherine Hayles, Writing Machines, MIT Press, 2002. Indeed, it is because digital writing is material in nature that we are able to refer to digital literature as "an aesthetic expression of materiality".16Serge Bouchardon, La valeur heuristique de la littérature numérique, Paris, Hermann, Paris, 2014. Many authors, such as Gregory Chatonsky, now defend the idea of "digital materiality".
The concepts of trace and medium are used in fields outside that of digital writing; they concern both the birth of writing practices and their contemporary mutations. Between these two periods, the systematic adhesion of the trace to the medium has become obsolete, while the materiality of the trace has survived. One of the challenges currently facing us would seem to be that of better understanding the uncoupling 17Louise Merzeau, « Du signe à la trace, ou l'information sur mesure », Traçabilité et réseaux, Hermès 53, CNRS éditions, 2009, pp. 23-31. of the trace and its medium which characterizes digital writing, as well as the articulation between explicit signs and implicit traces 18Dominique Cardon (A quoi rêvent les algorithmes, Seuil, 2015) makes a distinction in the big data field between explicit informational signals (such as a Facebook status) and implicit behavioural traces (such as a click, a geolocalization, or a reading speed). We can identify both signals without traces and traces without signals, but the current challenge would seem to be to understand the so-called predictive algorithms (such as Amazon's recommendations system), which involve both traces and signals. which is specific to digital writing. Such an articulation implies the reconciliation of Barthes' heritage (writing as text) and that of Derrida (writing as trace), as it is through the mediation of traces that we obtain the "textualization of uses".19Émilie Flon, Jean Davallon, Cécile Tardy, Yves Jeanneret, « Traces d'écriture, traces de pratiques, traces d'identités », in Actes du colloque international H2PTM'09. Paris : Hermès-Lavoisier, 2009, p. 181-191. That which at first might appear paradoxical is in fact quite logical : by inscribing digital writing in the continuum of writing practices, we are able to better comprehend the discontinuities. By positioning digital writing on the long timeline of writing, we are not only able to attentively study the technical and political mediations inherent to any "editorial enunciation" 20Emmanuël Souchier, « L'image du texte. Pour une théorie de l'énonciation éditoriale », Les Cahiers de médiologie, n°6, 1998, p.137-145., but also to identify the mediations which are specific to digital writing, like that of "trace of use".
The two forms of writing
One of the philosophical challenges of our times is to carefully meditate on the following words of Alan Turing : "Mechanism and writing are from our point of viewalmost synonymous".21Alan Turing, « Computing Machinery and Intelligence », Mind, LIX, 1950, p. 456. According to Jean Lassègue, computing is the result of a convergence between the way we see numbers, language, and the physical world, a convergence that has only been made possible by the history of writing. 22See Jean Lassègue's lecture, " A Few Historical and Anthropological Remarks about Digital Writing", (« Quelques remarques historiques et anthropologiques sur l'écriture informatique »), 19th Oct. 2007, http://www.diffusion.ens.fr/en/index.php?res=conf&idconf=1923; and the article he co-authored with Giuseppe Longo, « What is Turing's Comparison between Mechanism and Writing Worth? », in Cooper, S. Barry; Dawar, Anuj; Löwe, Benedikt (Eds.), How the World Computes, Springer, 2012, p. 450-461. Behind the expression "digital technologies" lies in fact the formal system embodying all that is calculable, i.e. that which is "writable" by a computerized machine. Informatics, as its name suggests, is the domain of automatic information, more specifically the techno-science of the treatment of information by automatic machines. Moreover all computer programming necessitates the processes of discretization and formalization, in other words writing.
According to Clarisse Herrenschmidt, the graphical history of humanity is structured by three inventions: 1) the writing of language which we commonly refer to as writing, a practice which emerged in the fourth millennium before Jesus Christ in Sumer; 2) the writing of numbers, as we can observe with the minting of coins towards 620 B.C., and 3) the writing of code with digital writing which first appeared with computerized writing (1936, then 1948) and a second time with reticular writing (1969).23Clarisse Herrenschmidt, op.cit. Languages, numbers and codes do not belong to the same semiological universe. The interest of this triptych is that it makes us wonder if writing or coding could be in the process of becoming a new type of value-form which would replace money. However, in our opinion, this triptych masks a yet more fundamental opposition which exists between the two first above-mentioned forms of writing and the last one. The two former can be said to be "analogical writing forms", as opposed to digital writing. In the cases of the writing of language and the writing of numbers, there is physical continuity between the written trace and the trace seen by the reader. However this is no longer the case with digital writing which requires the use of a computer program for it to make sense. Analogical data is represented by variations in physical size, whereas digital data is represented by a formal sequence that only a machine can translate into physical size.
Why do the French refer to "écriture numérique" ? The implications of the terminology
The French expression écriture numérique covers, for want of a better expression, writing practices made possible by technologies known as digital technologies via a technical and social device such as the banal smartphone. Its literal equivalent in English, numerical writing, suggests rather the writing of mathematical sentences involving only numbers and operation symbols, and does not apply here. Although the French expression écriture numérique is not perfect, it at least has the great merit of reminding us that the computer calculations that make it possible are themselves derived from writing (the writing of language and of numbers). Let us specify the reasons why the French expression "écriture numérique" is so appropriate here.
The French term numérique seems prefereable to its English equivalent in the field, digital, which although it evokes in French the gestural manipulability24In French, the word « digital » also refers to the fingers (e.g. « empreinte digitale » means « fingerprint »). inherent to computerized media, neglects the different levels of digital writing that will be dealt with below. In the same way, the French term numérique seems more appropriate than the term "computerized", as it is more general. Indeed, the expression "computerized writing" which dates back to the end of the 1980s, is used to refer to the writing of programs by programmers, whereas écriture numérique not only suggests programming, but more generally the manipulation of content which is made possible because it is encoded.
Is the term "writing" preferable to that of "media" ? The Digital is indeed an ostensibly "new" medium, but a particular medium to which many different names have been given. The computer, in its capacity as the most popular restitution medium (the screen), should not be qualified as a "multimedia" but rather as a "unimedia" device. More generally speaking, it deserves rather to be known as a "metamedium" or "transmedium". The expression "neo-media" coined by Lev Manovich has the merit of being neutral, but the novelty of the "new media" lies not so much in a particular property, as in their capacity to accommodate continually renewed properties, in a quasi-continuous way.
The term "hypermedia", beyond its explicit reference to the hyperlinks which characterize the web, evokes the idea that the Digital is both a reinvention of older media, compiling all of them in one medium, and at the same time a level above or beyond that of the older media (as suggested by the ancient Greek term "ὑπέρ"). The expression "computerized media", proposed by Yves Jeanneret and Emmanuël Souchier, also has the merit of clarifying the rewriting for different media which is involved: each new medium grows and develops by imitating and transforming a pre-existing medium.25Bolter, J.D. et Grusin, R., Remediation: Understanding New Media.Cambridge, MA, 1998. Yet to refer to "computerized media" could give the impresssion that the media in question already exist, and are then computerized, which is not always the case (the same reproach could be made concerning the term "digitized writing"). In our opinion, it seems more interesting to approach the history of media from the angle of the history of writing than the other way round. Moreover, this point of view is shared by those who popularized the expression "computerized media", and who continually remind us that the specificity of these media is that they are writing technologies. "The computerized media are thus defined as "textual machinery" to which we accede, and which we manipulate through writing".26Emmanuël Souchier, Yves Jeanneret, Joëlle Le Marec, Lire, écrire, récrire. Objets, signes et pratiques des médias informatisés, Paris, Bibliothèque du Centre Pompidou, 2003, p. 25. « Les médias informatisés sont ainsi définis comme des "machines textuelles" auxquelles on accède et que l'on manipule à travers et par l'écriture ». Writing is both the object and the tool of computerized media, so that the initial concepts of their approaches to computerized media are concepts inherent to writing (which is simultaneously a technique, a practice and text)27We could even consider that the approach which opposes "digital writing" and "computerized media" in fact consists in defining the latter by the former. Cf. Yves Jeanneret et Emmanuël Souchier, « Écriture numérique ou médias informatisés ? », Pour la science, « Du signe à l'écriture », Dossier hors série, n°33, 2001-2002., and to the well-known concept in France of "screen-writing" (« écrit d'écran »).28Emmanuël Souchier, « L'écrit d'écran : pratiques d'écriture et informatique », Communication & langages, 1996, n°107, p.105-119. The latter expression is pertinent in that it links the physical medium (the screen) and the symbolic form (writing), but limited in that digital writing can transcend the screen.
Similarly, the expression "reticular writing" proposed by Clarisse Herrenschmidt29ClarisseHerrenschmidt, op.cit. is particularly appropriate in that it highlights the Internet phenomenon (the linking of computers) and that of the web (the cross-linking of information), and in that it directly echoes the term "online text", but it is nonetheless restrictive as it neglects the fact that there are also non-reticular practices involved in digital writing (such as writing an article on a word processor, for example). Be that as it may, the analysis of informatized media is above all an analysis of reading and writing practices, which is why we prefer to speak of digital writing, or écriture numérique.
We make a distinction between digitized and digital works, in the same way as we distinguish between digitized writing (and reading) and digital writing (and reading). Digital literature produced by digital writing techniques, for example, is very different from literature which, if homothetic, simply results from the conversion of existing works from paper form into digital formats. In the latter case, the digitized work does not become a digital work, as these are essentially dynamic. Activating a hyperlink, creating a slide show or engaging in collaborative writing on a single document are examples of digital writing (and reading), but not of digitized writing (or reading), which can be published in paper form without the loss of any of its characteristics. This distinction is necessary to understand that digital reading does not just consist in learning to read on a screen, but rather combines the requirements associated with the processing of information and the construction of meaning with those linked to our mastery of the reading machine, an algorithmic device which reads and interconnects us.
Why do the French refer to "milieu numérique" (digital milieu)?
To understand digital writing implies to comprehend its place and role in the digital environment, or, as the French say, milieu numérique, and therefore also to grasp the meaning of what we mean by milieu.
Since McLuhan's theories in the 1960s, technology has been examined both as a medium and an environment. The French term milieu is particularly appropriate in that it covers both these dimensions. It signifies at once a centre and that which surrounds it, a half-way place and a background, that which lies both between us and around us, a context and all things intermediary. The meaning of the term milieu emanates from this dual dimension (medium and environment). Digital media have become the milieu in which the majority of us live. Its essence lies in its capacity to reveal things to us, and this without revealing itself. In other words, the milieu is not so much the focus of our attention per se, but rather that which engenders our exchanges. It is only through an examination of this milieu that we realise that our immediate environment is a web of mediations.
As the American philosopher John Durham Peters pointed out, the specificity of the notion of milieu lies in the fact that it refers not only to nature but also to the technical systems (Peters, 2015). According to Thierry Bardini, "Our contemporary media ecology is a renewed version of a well-established equation : ecology x cybernetics = milieu2. Indeed, there is a synchronicity effect which raises what milieu has come to mean for us to the power of 2".30Thierry Bardini, "Entre archéologie et écologie: Une perspective sur la théorie médiatique", Multitudes, 62,(1), 2016, 159-168 Indeed, we are currently witnessing an extensive theorization process in which two fields of study which were up till now quite distinct meet and interact with one another, namely those of our living environment (milieu de vie or Umwelt) and of media studies. Antonio Somaini has demonstrated, for instance, that Walter Benjamin's aesthetic conception of the medium finds its echo in von Uexküll's ethological conception of the Umwelt.31Antonio Somaini, "Walter Benjamin's media theory : the Medium and the Apparat", Grey Room, n°62, 2016, p.8. It is important that we should examine the notion of digital milieu, for the simple reason that to do so reminds us that media are not simply a means (which reproduces content), but a milieu (which produces content): each medium creates a new environment.32This opposition between means (moyen-terme) and environment (mi-lieu or tiers-terme), joins, completes or redefines the one proposed by the Actor Network Theory between intermediary and mediator. As a medium, the digital milieu is simultaneously medial, media-related, and mediumnic.33Concerning this distinction, see.T. Bardini, op.cit, and Y. Citton, Médiarchie. Paris, Seuil, 2017. And as an environment or Umwelt, the digital milieu does not only exist in spacetime, but rather it has become our spacetime.34cf. Jussi Parikka, « Media Ecologies and Imaginary Media: Transversal Expansions, Contractions, and Foldings », 2011 :http://fibreculturejournal.org/wp-content/pdfs/FCJ-116Jussi%20Parikka.pdf
Writing in a digital milieu necessarily implies taking the dual dimension of the term into account, and therefore writing via a milieu means to write in and with it, to allow it to write for us and reciprocally to write specifically for it. In the same way as writing is not merely a means to convey ideas, digital media are not simple writing tools, or even reading and writing environments, but a new milieu in their own right. Our interpretation of the world in which we live, a technical and social milieu, is conditioned by what we write. Being attentive to the milieu of writing means not only to deny its immateriality and to subscribe to Bruno Bachimont's theory of the medium, but also to understand that any technical milieu (i.e. materialization via a medium) is also a social milieu (a community of knowledge and powers). This evocation of a digital milieu for writing moreover reminds us that the act of writing involves a living body, a physical undertaking. We can also speak of digital writing as a "mi-lieu" (half-way place) in the sense that it comes to undermine our conventional dualisms (writing / speech, writing / reading, writing / machine, etc.), and in the sense that writing must take into account the socio-technical mediation inherent to any written communication.
Teaching Digital Writing
Having justified the concept of digital writing, we shall now turn our attention to the ways in which it can be taught. Teaching digital writing implies recognizing that the field exists in its own right, along with its own specificities and tensions. Thus we will begin by describing the specificities of digital writing through what we believe to be the most complete pedagogical approach, one which requires three different levels of analysis.
The three levels of digital writing and the associated tensions
The main characteristic of digital writing, according to Bruno Bachimont, or Lev Manovich, would seem to be that of algorithmic manipulability35Serge Bouchardon, Davin Heckman, « Digital Manipulability and Digital Literature », Electronic Book Review, 2012,http://www.electronicbookreview.com/thread/electropoetics/heuristic., from which all its other characteristics result36According to Bruno Bachimont, the noema of digital content is that "it has been manipulated." (Bruno Bachimont, Ingénierie des connaissances et des contenus. Le numérique entre ontologies et documents, Paris, Hermès, 2007, p. 33). For Stéphane Crozat, all the tropisms of digital content (abstraction, transformation, universality, addressing, connection, and duplication) result from this same characteristic (cf. http://aswemay.fr/co/tropism-map.html). According to Lev Manovich, the characteristics of the new media (modularity, automation, variability and transcoding ) result fom digital representaion which implies "algorithmic manipulation" (Manovich, 2001)., such as that of variability.37The variability of digital writing results from this manipulability. This variability englobes first of all that of the informatic code, which relies on variables written into computer programmes, then the variabilty of that which is displayed, and finally the variability of content in time (which results from the variability of the technical characteristics), and it incites authors to experiment with reinvention and variants. These three dimensions of variability are articulated ; as code includes elements to which various values can be given, digital writing is conceived in a manner which is open to variations (in the writing process), and is indeed also open to variations over time (variants). Cf. Bouchardon Serge, La valeur heuristique de la littérature numérique, Paris, Hermann, Paris, 2014. The essential characteristic of digital writing is that it can not only be read, but also manipulated. Any of its aspects may become the object of manipulation, a whole work, any of its different parts, or the grouping of a certain number of its parts. In the case of the Digital, any distinction between separate parts is moreover problematic, as digital media possess a modular structure, as Lev Manovich reminds us (Manovich, 2001). In the context of digital writing, the manipulation of the written text (which implies its discretization) is taken to the limit by the double divide to which it is subjected: a material divide (the binary code is independent from the inscription medium, functionally neutral with regard to the material on which it is run), and a semantic divide (the Digital does not possess any meaning or interpretation per se). Digital writing is the only field which implies this double divide, both material and semantic in nature. This is due to the fact that digital writing operates on three levels. It is because several dimensions are involved that the trace which is read (on the chosen restitution device) is no longer identical to the trace which was inscribed on the inscribable medium.
A book is endowed with physical or material reality (ink, paper) and symbolical or cultural reality (the language, and the signs to be interpreted). However to grasp the functioning of the Digital, it is necessary to understand the articulation of not two, but three dimensions: what the machine writes, what the programmer of the machine writes, and what is written by the user of the machine. Reading a digital document means interpreting these three dimensions, even if only the final one is visible. The stance which we will adopt here has already been formulated (Crozat, Bachimont et alii, 2011), and we will therefore suggest a reformulation. It assumes that any digital writing process can be described according to three levels of concretization, from its binary form (the theoretical level) to its intermediate level (the level of technological formats and programs) and finally according to its semiotic form, which can be interpreted by a human (the semiorhetorical level). Let us simplify and summarize these three levels.
Level 1: Writing By the Machine
The first level in digital writing is principally theoretical, and is based on the discretization and the manipulation of formal units, which are essentially meaningless (the 0s and 1s, or any other logical formal units constitute an alphabet for manipulation). Any digital content can be reduced to binary code, the potential meaning of which is arbitrary and independent of any formal manipulation. This binary code is the only material which can be entered into a processor. This blind combination of binary elements (or bits) constitutes an ideal, until it is activated by an electric current which flows through the processor (or not). This first level is therefore also the electronic level, that of material implementation, the level at which the code first encounters the machine. We shall thus call this level writing by the machine.
In order to write, it is necessary to learn a code, and to assimilate this code, such as an alphabet, for example. This is also true for informatic writing (level 2), as each programmer has assimilated a code. What is new with digital writing in comparison to graphic writing is that it is possible to write without mastering the binary code; the machine does this for us.
Level 2: Writing For Machines
The second level is that of the functional potential of the applications; here it is no longer a question of material implementation, but the software, and the manifestations to be brought about by the code now come into play.38See (Kirschenbaum, 2008) for context. For Kirschenbaum, « new media cannot be studied apart from individual instances of inscription, object, and code as they propagate on, across, and through specific storage devices, operating systems, software environments, and network protocols (p.23); « inscription is the essence of computer storage media » (p.49). This level concerns the formats used for writing and the functions of the digital text to be produced. How should we refer to this second level in digital writing? We suggest that it should be known as writing for machines, that is to say either computer programming or code writing. The principal characteristic of computer writing is that it involves several layers. To program software (for digital writing or other functions), it is not enough to know coding, but also to be familiar with the third level of digital writing.
Level 3: Writing With Machines
This third level is the one which concerns the users or readers of digital works, who interpret the semiotic forms and manipulate them: it is the interaction level (along with the first level and via the second level). As this third level is the most common one, we can refer to it as writing with machines. But the principal stake of the third level of digital writing is not to forget the two other levels, which if not directly visible, render visible the material required for the third one.
This theory comprising three levels echoes to a certain extent the three forms of information proposed by Marcia J. Bates.39Marcia J. Bates, « Fundamental Forms of Information », Journal of the American Society for Information Science and Technology, 57(8), 2006, pp.1033-1045. But perhaps the best way to define the three levels of writing is to correlate them with three ways of understanding the technology: the technology as a material, as a code, and as a form of art. The first stage of writing represents the materiality of the technology; it is the organised material or the physical trace which is conserved. The second level of writing represents the syntax underlying the technology, that of the codes and programs. And the third level of writing represents the use of writing; it is a techno-aesthetic approach, concerned with the sensorial and motor interface.40These three levels of the writing technique (or of writing) could evoke the semiotic traingle, with the code representing the syntax underlying the technology (level 2), art becoming the pragmatic dimension of the technology (level 3), however the organised material (level 1) does not correspond to the semantics of the technology. The use of the semioic triangle concerning digital writing is inappropriate, in spite of attempts by the Pédauque group to compare it to their own tripartition : the document as a form, as a sign, and as a medium. (R.T. Pédauque, Le Document à la lumière du numérique: forme, texte, médium, C&F éditions, 2006). The particularity of the Digital is the relative independence of these three levels, which are nonetheless reunited in a unique application.
Today all writing systems, including hand-written forms, are exposed to the possibility of being digitized, that is to say being generated, processed or recognized by computers. Writing machines existed before digital writing, but did not necessarily boast the semiomaterial complexity within which current devices entangle their users. Indeed the particularity of digital writing is that it is a form of writing alongside the machine41"We think through, with, and alongside digital media" (Hayles, 2012). (« une écriture selon la machine ») in the sense that it involves writing by the machine (level 1), writing for the machine (level 2) and writing with the machine (level 3). This tension between the three dimensions of the writing machine, resulting from the double divide referred to above, is specific to digital technology, where the trace is no longer inextricable from the medium. The text is no longer necessarily concomitant with and present on the medium, and there is rupture in the production process, with a hiatus between the inscription of a text and its restitution. The particularity of the Digital is that the content bears no trace of its manipulation, even if such traces exist. Digital writing displaces "the frontier between what is inscribed and what isn't and therefore – and this is the main point – the margins which define the space in which possible interpretations are developed".42Cécile Tardy, Yves Jeanneret, op.cit., p. 206-207. « la frontière entre ce qui est inscrit et ce qui ne l'est pas et donc – c'est l'essentiel – la marge dans laquelle se développent les interprétations ».
A tension specific to digital writing results from the existence of these three dimensions. If such a tension exists, it is primarily because digital writing reunites two previously distinct worlds: the world of writing and that of the machine, and secondly because the tensions inherent to writing itself (such as those between writing and orality, writing and language, writing and reading) take on new forms when exposed to the tension which is specific to digital writing (the tension which exists between writing and the program).43Serge Bouchardon, « Towards a tension-based definition of Digital Literature », Journal of Creative Writing Studies, Vol. 2: Issue 1, 2016, http://scholarworks.rit.edu/jcws/vol2/iss1/6.Also Serge Bouchardon, La valeur heuristique de la littérature numérique, Paris, Hermès, 2014.The very essence of digital writing lies in this tension between visble and invisible writing, between writing and a computer program. Digital writing is not only manipulable (and therefore variable), but is also automatic (and therefore invariable), in other words all manipulation is programmes and it is the invariabilty of the program that allows the user to learn to write with the machine. This tension between writing and program has an impact on the forms given to writing as well as to to the meaning of a text, and as such becomes a source of creativity, acting as a difference in potential from which new practices and new semantics emerge. Unless we face up to this tension between writing and the computer program, the risk of letting our writing practices escape our control is great. If we are to limit our analysis to the tension which exists between writing and reading, it is clear that the manipulation of signs and the dissemination of the traces which are specific to digital writing mean not only that to write is to read, but also that to read is to write. The web, before representing the industrialization of writing, essentially corresponded to the industrialization of reading.44Alain Giffard, « L'industrialisation du lecteur », Medium, 2012/3 (N° 32 - 33), p. 342-355.
The marketing of reading acts plays an important role in the financing of the web through advertising. The best example is Google's business model. The search engine is an automatic reading machine, almost universal, which has a double reading: it reads texts and reads readings. Undertaking the description of the forms taken on by the industrialization of writing/reading would be one of the fundamental challenges in the history of digital writing.45Olivier Ertzscheid, « Les 5 moments de l'écriture en réseau : les moteurs comme scripteurs », Affordance.info, 20/02/2011 http://affordance.typepad.com/mon_weblog/2011/02/les-5moments-ecriture-web-reseau.html. The processes underlying the web could be interpreted as writing processes: de-scription, trans-scription, con-scription, pre-scription, and sub-scription. Indeed, today we seem to subscribe to reading matter which is no longer inscribed. The text, the author and the reader have become important resources for the big data industry, which is why one must take the time to critically examine the industrial formating of writing (Berens, 2019) before starting to teach it.46Nicole Pignier et Eleni Mitropoulou (dir.), Former ou formater ? Les enjeux de l'éducation aux médias, Editions Solilang, 2014.
Digital writing in schools (the PRECIP project)
Jack Goody saw fit to write, "oral cultures do not require schools […]. Schools become necessary with the appearance of writing".47Jack Goody, « L'oralité et l'écriture », Communication et langages. n°154, 2007, p. 10. « Les cultures orales n'ont pas besoin d'écoles […]. Les écoles deviennent nécessaires quand l'écrit apparaît ». Writing is the supreme condition for studies in general, which is why the primary role of schools is to teach reading and writing. And it is through writing and reading that schools learn to teach.
Teaching digital writing in schools means going against a tendency whereby digital tools are seen as a means to encourage learning, schools not generally being considered as the place "to teach pupils about the Digital". Educators generally place the Digital "at the service of an education program rather than seeing it as the object of such a program".48Eleni Mitropoulou, « Éduquer aux médias à l'école : quelles compétences pour quelles performances ? », in Nicole Pignier et Eleni Mitropoulou (dir.), Former ou formater ? Les enjeux de l'éducation aux médias, Editions Solilang, 2014, p.24. The pedagogical challenge is to foster the emergence of digital literature, which transcends the alphabetization process, generally taught through conventional methods using digital tools as learning aids. Pupils are often digitally competent, but are not always digitally literate. They know how to insert a hyperlink from the technical point of view, for example, but do not necessarily master the semantic and rhetorical implications of the hyperlink.
Such was the starting point of PRECIP49PRatiques d'ECriture Interactive en Picardie, http://precip.fr, 2009-2013., an action research project around the subject of digital writing, rather than a research project on ICT tools (which might attempt to determine the extent to which ICT tools encourage learning, for instance). The project was thus centered on digital writing as a subject for teaching, rather than on the use of digital technologies in teaching. The postulate underlying this project was that digital writing, in its different forms, has its own specific characteristics, and that these can be taught.
The PRECIP project challenges the separation between the culture of writing in schools (that of books), and the more general culture of writing (that of the web); the Ars Industrialis association was founded in reaction to the failure of public bodies to instigate a dialogue around the use of reading and writing technologies, the impact of this choice firstly affecting schools.50http://www.arsindustrialis.org/. Denis Kambouchner, Philippe Merieu, Bernard Stiegler, L'école, le numérique et la société qui vient, Paris, Fayard, 2012. In France, digital writing, which is not the same thing as computer programming, is not really taught in primary or in secondary schools. The PRECIP project, based around the concept of literacy, was set up with the aim of filling this breach. Literacy, the antonym of illiteracy, goes beyond mere alphabetization, and implies the capacity to mobilize writing processes, and to understand and use written information. For the purpose of this project, it was important that the teaching of digital writing take place first of all in French lessons, more particularly in literature lessons, so as to link the teaching of writing to the associated media.
One of the main sources of disagreement between researchers would seem to be determining to what extent knowledge of computer programming is necessary for digital literacy. Our point of view, and that underlying the PRECIP project, is that it is possible to foster digital literacy without teaching programming skills.51This conviction is not shared by all those who collaborated on the PRECIP project, notably Stéphane Crozat. We can observe that researchers' views on this essential point often depend on their own experience and competencies. However to do so is impossible unless learners fully understand the articulation of the three levels of digital writing, and therefore the way in which programming conditions digital writing. The concept of « architextual writing »52Yves Jeanneret, Emmanuël Souchier, « Pour une poétique de l'écrit d'écran », Xoana, n°6-7, 1999, p.97-107. Jeanneret and Souchier refer to certain software programs as "architexts" (after Genette), meaning that we are writing with forms already written by others. A piece of software like Microsoft Word or Powerpoint invites the user to write with written forms ("écriture d'écriture"). "We name architects (from archè, origin and command), the tools that make possible the existence of the writing on the screen and which, not only represent the structure of the text, but also command its execution and implementation. In other words, the text springs from an architext which shapes its writing" (« Nous nommons architextes (de archè, origine et commandement), les outils qui permettent l'existence de l'écrit à l'écran et qui, non contents de représenter la structure du texte, en commandent l'exécution et la réalisation. Autrement dit, le texte naît de l'architexte qui en balise l'écriture »)., or writing with pre-existing written forms is a good example, as it shows that it is possible to grasp the writing program (level 3), without being familiar with programming skills (level 2).
The PRECIP project is both a theoretical project aiming to establish a model of intelligibility based on the three levels theory as described above 53Stéphane Crozat et al., op.cit., and a practical project, as this model was the object of didactic transposition in teaching modules on digital writing, in collaboration with the teachers involved. These modules were tested in different teaching situations (secondary education, higher eduation, and Public Digital Spaces). Here we will focus on the example of a teaching module on collaborative digital writing54Teaching module (in French, by Isabelle Cailleau) : http://www.utc.fr/~wprecip//modules/collaborative/PRECIP-ecriture-collaborative-college.pdf. Autonomous Learning Module (in French, by Victor Petit) : http://www.utc.fr/~wprecip//modules/collaborative/ados/co/Ecriture_collaborative_web.html, and its experimental use in classes of fourteen to fifteen-year-olds in the La Fontaine middle school in Crépy-en-Valois, France. The aim of this module was to introduce the pupils to the specificities of digital writing thanks to experimentation with synchronous collaborative digital writing and the analysis of a digital work. However, as the teachers with whom we worked pointed out, it also helped the pupils in their classes – all of them – to write, and to question their own writing practices. Throughout our experiments in this school, it was striking to observe the extent to which the teaching of collaborative writing using Etherpad55http://etherpad.org/. online editor, or the collaborative writing of a Wikipedia article helped to improve the pupils' literacy (by challenging their writing practices and developing new writing skills) as well as their digital literacy (through an examination of the properties and tensions specific to digital literature).
Although the fundamental characteristic of digital writing is a new one (that of algorithmic manipulability), not all forms of digital writing are new, and digital writing, in its very newness, redeploys in its own manner the properties of the writing forms which preceded it. As Lev Manovich so well demonstrated, technical discontinuity only finds its expression through cultural continuity (Manovich, 2001).This is valid for all the forms of writing mentioned here (including collaborative writing, constrained or modelled writing, interactive writing, and multimedia writing). To proceed with our example, collaborative writing existed before the birth of the Digital, but what is new is its synchronous, dynamic and modifiable aspect56Synchronous collaborative writing, whereby several writers are able to write at the same time, usually in different geographical locations, on the same document is possible with tools such as Etherpad. However the domain of collaborative writing is very vast and includes other tools (such as Wiki software) and all dimensions of writing (such as Spip or Lodel, collaborative online publishing systems).56, or, as in the case of the collaborative encyclopedia Wikipedia, that the reading and writing done by humans hitherto merges with that carried out by "robots" (Geiger, 2011).
In our view, the aim of teaching digital writing in schools is not to teach pupils to use the software involved (even software for writing purposes), however numerous fun tools and adapted programs are available to foster digital literacy in schools.57Tools on sites such as dCode, Charabia and Wordle allow for letter games, automatic text generation and the creation of word clouds. For examples of software or more elaborate platforms, see Antidote (spelling and grammar checker, dictionary, linguistic guide) or the social network Wattpad (writing and reading network mainly destined for adolescents). And the web, itself a collaborative writing venture, fortunately provides us with spaces for reflection centred around digital writing.58The i-voix blog, for example : (http://i-voix.net/), developed in schools, is a blog for writing around writing in the digital milieu. Our conviction (reinforced by our observations made while working on the PRECIP project) is that the best way to introduce pupils to digital technologies is through writing practice and theory. Even if our various teaching situations do not suffice for a scientific hypothesis to be validated, they do however allow us to demonstrate that the teaching of digital writing (as opposed to the teaching of programming and digitized writing) is possible as early as the middle school years. While we agree with Olivier le Deuff that there is currently a shift from a situation in which informational, media and digital literacy compete with one another for teaching purposes towards one of greater convergence, we do not however believe that the priority should be for digital literacy to become a specific discipline in schools 59Olivier Le Deuff, « Littératies informationnelles, médiatiques et numériques : de la concurrence à la convergence ? », Études de communication, 38 | 2012, http://edc.revues.org/3411, but rather that we should begin by teaching digital writing in middle schools, to avoid creating a barrier between literacy and digital literacy in young teenagers' minds.
Digital Literature and Literacy
The idea behind the setting up of teaching modules for the PRECIP project was notably to use digital literature creations as a starting-point to learn about digital writing in French lessons.60Serge Bouchardon, Alexandra Saemmer, « Littérature numérique et enseignement du français », Guide TICE pour le professeur de français, CNDP-CRDP de l'académie de Paris, 2012, p. 225-248. The underlying hypothesis was that sensitizing pupils to creative practices encourages reflection around digital writing practices.
The machine is simulaneously a model, an object and a medium for literature61Isabelle Krzywkowski, Machines à écrire, littérature et technologies du XIXeau XXIesiècle, Grenoble, Ellug, 2010., but hitherto also an actor in the literary field.62The literature machine imagined by Italo Calvino in 1967 to remove the psychological dimension of writing (the author) is now perfectly concrete (Italo Calvino, La machine littérature, Paris, Seuil, 1984). The (writing and reading) machine is indeed essentially invisible, in the sense that the digital milieu is intrinsically invisible (but not immaterial). However digital literature and art aim to render the invisible writing which structures our modern world visible, opening up the writing machine's black box.63It is when machines malfunction that they become a visible milieu, as illustrated by all Nicolas Maigret and Nicolas Montgermont's artistic projects : art of failures (http://artoffailure.free.fr/). If the writing process is composed of several levels, then we must, like Philippe Bootz's Rabot poète (2007)64http://epoetry.paragraphe.info/artists/oeuvres/bootz/rabot.htm., shave off layer by layer the traces which both separate us from and bind us to our writing. Digital artists constantly question the forms taken on by digital writing and the articulation between the various realities called into play. Emmanuel Guez has studied the (mostly French) artists who reflect on our "writing machines" and "explore the possibilities opened up by the new writing media: online writing and network writing (Lucille Calmel, hp process or Annie Abrahams), hypertextual writing (Eli Commins), writing for mobile phones (Célia Houdart, Blast Theory, Ici Même Paris), writing with the machine and computerized theatre direction (Heiner Goebbels, Tino Sehgal or the Baltazars), writing with and by video games (Joseph Delappe) or metaverse (Agnès de Cayeux), continuous writing forms via text messages, as well as collaborative, participative and anonymous writing practices".65Emmanuel Guez, « Préambule », MCD, n° 66, Machines d'écritures, 2012.
To understand digital literature means to study the works of authors whose writing is reworked by the device or program on which it is written.66Concerning this writing which is fashioned by the physical medium on which it relies, Marc JahJah refers to the works of Deena Larsen (Samplers: Nine Vicious Hypertexts,1997, Eastgate Systems), and also to those of Jörg Piringer and of Jason Edward Lewis (« Digital et Books Studies (2/3) : les formes du matérialisme numérique (1ère partie) », http://marginalia.hypotheses.org/25331#identifier_37_25331). Writing digital literature implies, as Thierry Crouzet has done, reflecting on the specificities of digital literature from the angle of the Nietzschean postulate that "our writing tools also fashion our thoughts".67Thierry Crouzet, La mécanique du texte, publie.net, 2015.For the author, digital writing is far from being homogenous. For him, writing software such asScrivener or Ulysses is digital literature software that transcend the book metaphor. A great many theoreticians of digital literacy are also authors of digital literature. Thus if we are to take the example of one of the authors of this article, the "heuristic value"68Serge Bouchardon, La valeur heuristique de la littérature numérique, Paris, Hermann, Paris, 2014. of digital literature is displayed in "The 12 Labors of the Internet User" ( Les 12 travaux de l'internaute)69http://www.the12labors.com/., which is both a work of digital literature and about digital writing : the reader is invited to clear his / her spam email, to block pop-up windows, to participate in writing a Wikipedia article, and so to procure the keys to understanding our writing technologies. The heuristic value of digital literature allows us to revisit certain notions, thus opening up new directions for digital writing. It revisits the tension which exists between writing (visible) and programs (invisible) referred to above. Some creations, such as _Tramway _70http://revuebleuorange.org/bleuorange/02/saemmer/.by Alexandra Saemmer, illustrate this (de)coherence between text and program by writing about and with the notion of disappearance. This confusion between the content and the form would seem to characterize digital literature. For example, works like Boris du Boullay's 71http://lesfilmsminute.com/explicationdetexte/default.html.Explication de texte, or Comprendre by Annie Abrahams 72http://www.bram.org/beinghuman/converfr/4fr.html., do not merely use hypertext, but exploit the hypertextual drift inherent to digital writing. Such nautical methaphors should be taken seriously. Hypertextual reading is a form of "navigation", and the associated risk is that of "drifting", yet at the same time digital literature helps the reader to navigate more skillfully and to avoid such drifting.73On his blog which supports the idea of a philosophy to encompass the digital world, Marcello Vitali-Rosati claims that digital literature is precisely the place for this metaphorical reappropriation, and he cites the works of Cécile Portier, Victoria Welby, and Pierre Méhard, as well as his own, which he precisely calls Navigation(http://navigations.vitalirosati.eu/). (http://blog.sens-public.org/marcellovitalirosati/faut-il-se-deconnecter-moi-je-vais-en-bateau/) The specificity of digital literature is that it exploits the variability of the medium to display the resonance between style and content, between text and context, between symbols and the devices upon which they appear, and between the letter and the spirit.
In these times of the commercial appropriation of our common writing and reading milieu, the authors of digital writing obviously raise certain politcal questions.74For example, the group of authors kom.post attempted to "build a common creation" around a digital "readers' book" : http://kompost.me/p/fabrique-du-commun-mons-26-sept/. In order to learn about (and therefore to understand) digital writing, we must develop a general critical culture towards this commoditization of the written word. If we are to take just one example (but a very significant one), in an ideal world, we would not use Google without understanding it. In order to do so, we should perhaps begin to use Google's own tools, notably Ngrams, Google Correlate and Google Trends, to become familiar with the logic behind their writing processes. In his texts on digital writing, the designer Jean-François Gleyze succeeded in including simple and efficient experiments, an excellent means to approach the writing machine which Google represents. Exquises Requêtes allows us to experiment with constrained writing via Google (exquisite cadaver), HolyGoogle encourages us to meditate on the associated key words and the linguistic marketplace, Guess What inspires writing through images and shape recognition, Monologues encourages us to reflect on what constitutes a semantic translation.75The entire collection of these works can be found here : http://jf.gleyze.free.fr/MatieresEcrites.html Similarly, Christophe Bruno's The Google adwords happening76http://www.iterature.com/adwords/ , which consisted in buying key words from the Google Adwords service, in the aim of writing poems there rather than placing adverts, was a means to sensitize the reader to a "generalized semantic capitalism".77See also Pip Thornton, "A Critique of Linguistic Capitalism: Provocation/Intervention", in GeoHumanities 4.2, p. 417-437, 2018, https://www.tandfonline.com/eprint/9Nm9BBmHdwdFYRxjqejh/full. Indeed, to meditate with Lori Emerson on the googlization of literature implies turning towards writers who provide us with new reading matter from our new writing milieu.78Lori Emerson (Reading Writing Interfaces: From the Digital to the Bookbound, University of Minnesota Press, 2014** ) **** refers** to conceptual writers such as Bill Kennedy, Darren Wershler and Tan Lin, who experiment with / on Google.
One of the major problems of digital literature can be described as follows: we do not have access to our own scriptural conditions. What we refer to as digital literacy designates the manner in which we deal with this state of affairs. As Éric Guichard rightly claims, the question of democracy and the question of literacy are one and the same.79Éric Guichard, « Internet, technique et démocratie », in Éléments pour une démocratie technique, Université de Technologie de Belfort-Montbéliard, 2014, p.145-160. Furthermore, the question of the place of digital writing in schools raises the question of citizenship in the digital milieu.
Conclusion. The Milieu of Writing
Rather than pitting the attention required to read a book against the entertainment provided by the Digital, we should make every attempt to reflect on constructing critical approaches to teaching digital writing in schools. In this day and age when the individual user may appear as "a document like any other" (Ertzscheid, 2009), and when writing about oneself may become an industrial project, it would seem appropriate at least for schools to give greater consideration to our writing media in their teaching of writing. Teaching digital writing is a means for schools not to reproduce a certain number of unfortunate dichotomies, such as the one which exists between humanities and technology. Learning about digital writing and reading implies by definition the reconciliation of culture and technology, as in spite of Simondon's alarm call80Gilbert Simondon, Du mode d'existence des objets techniques, Aubier-Montaigne, Paris, 1958., the split remains, since we continue to think about technology (and more specifically digital technology) in terms of means rather than of milieu. By continuing to consider digital technologies either as slaves or as gods, it is certain that we fail to understand and act on the writing and reading of our life milieu. As we suggested when we referred to digital mi-lieu, digital writing is never uniquely carried out in a homogenous environment or given space, on one specific level; it does not consist so much in writing on a medium as in writing between different media; in other words, it belongs to none of the three levels of digital writing, but participates in all three.
If literacy implies an understanding of the writing milieu, then it would appear essential to teach digital writing in the place where writing itself is taught, namely in schools. As we have suggested, ideally the teaching of digital writing would combine the teaching of the technical milieu and of digital literature in one unique endeavour.
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