It’s 1995 and I’m 12 years old. Computers are MS-DOS enabled with green square cursors flashing on a black screen. I’m learning how to touch type in the school computer room, situated in the farthest room at the top of the stairs.
Then Microsoft Windows arrives. Our 12 year old minds are awe-struck by the 3D image of a wooden window frame with green fir trees hovering on our start-up screens.
Flash forward to 2016. I never leave home without my iPhone, Macbook Air and iPad. I carry a portable battery charger, phone cable and stylus, with my pencil and pen in my pencil case. My entire hard drive is in the cloud, and I access files and folders from my various devices as and when I need them.
Flashback to 2005 and I’m a journalist on a community newspaper in Cape Town, South Africa, working on a 1995 Apple Macintosh desktop computer. I use QuarkXPress for layout and design, and a simple text editor for writing.
At home, our desktop computer is a 1998 model of some brand, running a Windows operating system. We don’t have the internet at home. The only mobile technology I have is my cell phone.
But my real shift to the digital sphere starts in 2007, when I leave the newsroom to travel and live abroad for 18 months. I join Facebook and get a Gmail account, largely to stay in touch with family and friends. A year later I purchase my first laptop. Then the Facebook takeover happens.
Every holiday, special day out, birthday or concert becomes a photo album. Relationships aren’t valid until they are declared on the blue and white screen. My definition of friends widen to include people I haven’t met yet, or with whom I have only met once.
In 2009, I co-found a youth development organisation and Facebook morphs into a place of work as well as socialising. I start to see poetry as a career, and use Facebook and Twitter more and more as professional spaces.
Three years later I decide to make poetry and performance my day job. The lines between the personal and professional use of social media start to blur, which I find challenging. In 2013, I receive an iPad for my birthday and slowly my mobile work-style takes shape.
My social media presence grows to include Instagram and Tumblr. A year later I delete my Facebook account, finding it a distraction more than a productive work site. My analogue diary transforms into a Google calendar on my iPad.
I upgrade my Dropbox to 100GB with an annual subscription. I start using Mr Reader, Evernote, Flipboard, Kindle, iThoughts. I buy a Bluetooth keyboard for the iPad and leave my laptop at home. Soon tweets and Tumblr posts begin to be scheduled. I develop digital work systems that integrate the various aspects of my work: writing, performing, teaching and curating and producing.
As an independent creative artist, working locally and internationally, the digital sphere enables my mobile work-style. And yet, as a poet, all thinking, creating, writing and making starts with pen and paper first – I never leave home without my journal and a pen.
I keep every single journal I’ve used since I started writing in them regularly 15 years ago. I also prefer reading books in print than on a screen (although I do read a significant amount via Kindle, Pocket, online and in PDF), annotating poems and texts by hand, before cataloguing them into my Evernote reading log.
My other analogue tools include sticky notes and a whiteboard above my desk. I think best with a pen in my hand – the kinaesthetic movement unlocks my creative brain in a particular way and allows things to flow.
The digital space is where I order, shape and re-shape thoughts and ideas, edit poems, try different variations of things. It’s also where I organise my work, and allows for seamless movement between and integration across my various projects, and the applications and software I use to carry out those projects.
I’m a tactile person as much as I am cerebral so this dynamic and seamless integration between the analogue and digital sphere enables me to work at my peak across all my roles: artist, teacher and producer.
I’m currently exploring ways to include digital experiences in my live performances, and more interactive ways of sharing my work online. I think simultaneously in analogue and digital, each side feeding the other, and enabling the other to take place.
I don’t see them as separate or competing worlds; they are simply different ways in which to inhabit my life – personally, professionally and creatively.
Main picture and home page credits: Toni Stuart by Amaal Said
About the author
Toni Stuart is a poet, performer and spoken word educator from South Africa. She has spent the past year in London as a 2014/2015 Chevening Scholar on the MA Writer/Teacher programme at Goldsmiths, University of London. She has used digital technology in her live performances and is exploring how it can be used to extend an audience’s engagement beyond with initial live experience. With her background in journalism and youth development, she is interested in how the digital space is used by artists in South Africa to determine and map their own careers, and create their own audiences. Her poetic work has strong feminist themes, and she is passionate about the ways in which women artists particularly are engaging with social media and various digital platforms to connect with audiences and build their work. Toni is the founding curator of Poetica at Open Book Festival in Cape Town. In 2013 she was named in the Mail and Guardian’s list of inspiring 200 Young South Africans.