This one’s a few months old, but as I spend more and more of my time typing into word processors, I’ve wondered how it affects the way I think and write. Clive Thompson, who’s been writing a lot longer than I have, remembers how the world felt when Word processors came out:
It’s hard to remember now, but many people back in the 80s totally freaked out about word processing. I recall professors worrying that it would make students write more sloppily, and even think more sloppily. The fluidity of cutting and pasting seemed intellectually suspicious. I even remember one of my TAs arguing — in a lovely foreshadowing of today’s fears that “the Internet is making us stupid” — that cutting and pasting would render our generation unable to craft a coherent argument, because the sheer slipperiness of digital prose, its slithy rearrangeability, would render our ideas and prose rootless, nonsequential, and flighty.
Conor Friedersdorf, closer to my point on the digital vs. analog timeline, differs a bit:
In high school, I always hated “in class” essays: accustom to writing on a word processor, the different process of longhand composition always made me feel incapable of producing my best work, even if I adjusted capably enough to get a good grade.
I’m more in line with Conor here. I’ve written on computers as long as I can remember, and I feel his pain in the difficulty of writing on paper. I write out of order, edit constantly, and move things around so much that having to write A, then B, then C, then D just doesn’t work for me. I don’t know that it’s a bad thing, either. Everyone has a different process, and that’s been the case for a long time. Aren’t Word and other tools just making it easier to work, no matter your process? If you still want to write linearly, from beginning to end, you of course can. But you don’t have to.
What do you think? I’m second-guessing myself even as I write this, because it took me four edits to get it right, and I moved everything around. But that might be just because my coffee is still mostly full.