This text was written in commission for the forthcoming book I Read Where I Am by the Graphic Design Museum in Breda, to be published in May this year.

When, in 2007, I decided to resume studying after a break of 15 years, I discovered with a shock that I could no longer write without a computer. After days of thorough preparation, I entered the lecture hall to sit my first exam. When it started, I began industriously writing things down, but I quickly encountered problems. The second sentence didn’t flow well, it had to be reversed; I crossed it out and started again, turned the sentence around and then went on to the second paragraph. This also turned into a mess. I went to get fresh paper and threw a worried glance at the clock: I had already lost twenty minutes. A slight panic crept over me. Could I handle it?

My concern was not only that I apparently had become so stunted by cut-and-paste tools that linear text production seemed now virtually impossible, but also that the whole process preceding this – ordering my thoughts and formulating arguments – couldn’t take place without ten finger tips subtly leaning, gliding, typing over the qwerty keyboard, with the Internet browser, spell checker, and thesaurus within easy reach. Even more confusion arose in me from the realization that I hadn’t even noticed that I had changed this much.

Just as Socrates was concerned that the invention of writing would make people forgetful, people today are worried about the degree to which we are permanently shaped by digital technologies. The playwright Richard Foreman recently expressed his concern about digital dependency in his suggestion that we are on our way to becoming ‘pancake people’, in contrast to those who are cursed with a more ‘complex, dense, and cathedral-like’ mental structure. The pancake people are ‘wide and thin’, connected to the network of information, while the cathedral people have internalized a personal vision on the world.

The contrast between the words pancake and cathedral is deliberately humorous, but it is also normative. It ignores the multitude of possibilities that the Internet offers us and the irreversibility of media change. A subtle awareness of the advantages and disadvantages of digitality is crucial.

Although, according to Foreman, I have, in recent years, developed into a networking pancake – and probably a lot more besides me – I still now and then go to a meeting in good spirits with a writing pad. I can’t prevent my hand involuntarily, but with a certain regularity, moving to the bottom of the paper page to check a phantom mouse pad, to see whether there are any messages or in order to look up something. These days, I deprogram my body more regularly and flick the online switch to ‘off’ sometimes. By the way – I passed that exam.