Digital Writing Month: Wrestling with Google and other Frustrations

 Digital Writing: A Search Story

(You can listen to the audio podcast of this blog post, too. In case you want to hear my voice. It’s all about options for the experience, right? Audio and text and visual …)

It’s been fascinating to take part in the Digital Writing Month adventure, particularly as it has forced me to consider how my writing practices are impacted by technology. And that exploration has raised the question once again: is technology transforming and changing the way we write? I’ve noticed, as I follow others in Digiwrimo, that much of what we are calling digital writing is mostly blog posts — texts on a page. Or Tweets. Sure, a digital page, but still, I would not term it something all that different from traditional writing, except audience. So what does it mean to write digitally, then? I don’t have that answer, although the question intrigues me. But this morning, as I was trying to think about how I might compose with video, I returned to the Google Search Story site. Here, you can create a short digital story with search engine queries. I was curious about the process that I would put myself through to try to tell a story or make a point, with limited text and with the video coming from somewhere else. In other words, I had less agency as a writer than I would have liked. (And, admittedly, I was contributing to Google’s bottom line by making a video with its search engine).

Here’s what I noticed as I was creating a search story about Digital Writing Month and the act of writing digitally: I found myself in a constant wrestling match with Google. You’d think it simple enough: write five or six search queries and let Google do the rest. But Google wasn’t doing what I wanted — its search results were different from my vision. I tweaked words. I revamped phrases. I worked harder on those five search phrases than I am working on this reflection piece. Seriously.

And I am still not satisfied, and it made me think about the compromises we make with technology when we compose with the tools available. Yes, it would be nice if we were all programmers with enough coding expertise to create our own tools for our own purposes, but most of us are not. I’m not. What I am left with is this feeling that while technology allows me to stretch in new directions, it also hinders my sense of expression. And I can’t shake the feeling that we are not yet close to the promise of being real digital writers, when all of the agency of expression is in our own hands.

When we can write what we want to write, and say what we want to say, in a medium of our choice and with all the flexibility we desire, I’ll be doing a happy dance as a digital writer. Until then, I push as far as I can, and hope that I can live with the sense of compromise that often is the result of the conversations between me, the writer, and the various tools of technology that are at my disposal.

Peace (in pushing boundaries),

PS — I want to apologize for putting my own book — Teaching the New Writing — into my search story but it seemed pertinent. Right? Well, I was also using Google for my own aims there, too. If they can monetize my story through my use of its search engine, I might as well turn it back on them and use their search engine to publicize our book.


  1. This is actually a really cool article, Kevin!
    Hey, would you do me a HUGE favor and check out my blog for school? its and it is articles writtian about issues in the middle east. This is not spam or anything, i just saw that your blog is really poplular and it would mean the world to me if you would give us a shout-out!

  2. Pingback: Digital Writing Month: Digi Gets Stuck in a Google Doc

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