When I initially downloaded and started playing with Markdown, I felt something of a mix between excitement and trepidation. It was exciting to learn a program that was so far out of the realm of anything I had done before, but for that very reason it was also frightening. However, following the lead of Sonya Huber’s Shadow Syllabus and dismissing my fears of doing something wrong in favor of actually learning, any lingering fear went away, and I got a decent grasp on the limitations and affordances of the program.
Perhaps the biggest limitation in Markdown is that it is not intuitive. For someone with little to no experience with coding of any type, it does not make any sense why **two asterisks* should be used for bold text and *one* should be used for *italics. It is certainly one of the most frightening aspects of learning to write in Markdown since it is so completely different from formatting in a program like Word.
Because the formatting is not as straightforward as in Word, it can take longer for a user to achieve the type of formatting they want since they have to first learn how to achieve the desired formatting and then type in the required characters every time they want to format a word or a phrase. For example, making a table in Markdown is much more time consuming than simply clicking “Insert Table” in Word.
Coupled with that, Markdown is quite basic, so not every single format someone could possibly desire is able to be used. For example, splitting the page into two columns is impossible, but it can be done with the click of a button in Word.
Moving on to the positives, one of the biggest affordances of writing in Markdown is that it gets rid of some of the distractions that can get in the way of just writing. Without the distractions of figuring out which font to use and in what size, it is much easier to focus and write information down.
This brings me nicely to my second point, which is that writing in Markdown emphasizes the content rather than the style. It emphasizes that the words on the screen are more important than making them look pretty since there really is no way to make them look pretty. Tying into that somewhat, there is a sort of rawness to being able to see the notation used for formatting and the actual URL of a link that Word lacks that is quite lovely. It makes the user feel much more connected to the text since it is the user themself who formatted it, rather than simply having a word processing program do it for them.
In a much more pragmatic way, it is valuable that just one text can be styled very easily by simply using a different theme, and the same text can be exported to multiple different sources depending on the requirements.
Overall, I like Markdown. It certainly feels much less nostalgic than, say, writing on a piece of paper and much more tech-y than writing in Word, but that just confirms the hypothesis that the medium is the message. A text, this text about writing in Markdown, for instance, would feel somewhat ironic and disconnected if it were handwritten on a piece of notebook paper compared to how it feels now being written in Markdown. In this instance, and in all instances, the method of transmission has just as much of an impact on the reader as the text itself.