A purer form of interaction?

Writing has long been glorified as the purest form of expression. As a tool for organizing thoughts and preserving memory, writing revolutionized humanity's ability to solve and understand problems. "The interdependence of the development of writing and modern civilization is well documented" (Coulmas, 8). So powerful is written language that we have come to think that the mind itself operates in a linguistic fashion when encoding ideas: Literacy has been long regarded as the stabilizing pillar of culture and of intelligence. . . Because of its connection with mental skills, literacy, in the sense of alphabetic literacy, has meant the ability of the individual to rise above particular circumstances and enter a shared world of intelligibility. This shared world of intellect is believed to disclose a superior reality which encompasses and masters the commonsense and mostly inarticulate grasp we have on things we deal with intuitively (Heim, 23-4).

But ironically, writing is not as natural to man as spoken language. "Writing is a cultural achievement rather than a universal property and as such is much less important than speech to our self- understanding" (Coulmas, 3). There is a living, organic quality of speech -- spoken words are born, mature and die in the breath of a moment. Derrida noted this characteristic of text when he wrote, "What writing itself, in its nonphonetic moment, betrays, is life. It menaces at once the breath, the spirit, and history as the spirit's relationship with itself (Derrida, 25).

MUDs (and computer conferencing in general) provide a blend of writing and speech that may represent a purer form of expression than either achieve separately. The experience of MUD is more highly cerebral than speech -- players analyze their actions closely as well as constructing both the verbal content and computer commands to send their messages -- and yet all this takes place in (slightly slower) real time, where players 'speak' to one another with written notes passed from computer to computer. "It's the closest thing I can think of -- unpleasant as the thought might be -- of plugging electrodes into my brain" one professional writer says about hypertext writing (Hurwood, 105).

As this hypertext has suggested, the medium of Multiple User Dungeons offers many benefits over both speech and writing. In hypertext communication, "It becomes difficult to say where thinking ends and writing begins, where the mind ends and the writing space begins. With any technique of writing -- on stone or clay, papyrus or paper, and particularly on the computer screen -- the writer comes to regard the mind itself as a writing space" (Bolter, 11). MUDs offer a writing space that is highly malleable, yet sometimes concrete, where the inherent programming structure works as one of the only stabilizing forces in a free realm of imagination and expression.