Writing 101: Sometimes Technology Is Not Your Friend

I've been working with authors for a long time - probably close to a decade on at least a semi-professional basis, but really all the way back to college - in creative writing courses as well as just helping out friends as they wrote papers.

Not me.

I'm part of the generation that started working with keyboards on typewriters (mostly electric, at least), and experienced things like "daisy wheel" typewriters (which kept typing even when you had stopped because they had to catch up with you - which completely threw me off in the same way that an out-of-sync movie does).

I also had a dictionary. And - in my parents' house - a full set of World Book Encyclopedias. And - at school - a full school library.

Also not me.

We went through word processors that would show you one line of text at a time, and then print it out when you moved on. There was a computer lab in the basement of my dorm when I was in college - it had no Internet access of any kind, but it would allow you to type up your papers, and then print them out on a dot-matrix printer. In grad school, the computers in the lab got an upgrade - and so did the printers.

I still had a dictionary, but the school libraries were much bigger with stacks upon stacks of card catalogs and references for books and topics I'd never heard of. But this idea called "spellcheck" was beginning to take hold.

And then, suddenly, I had my own computer in my apartment. And my own printer. And a dial-up connection to the World Wide Web, which I could even use when I brought home a laptop from the consulting job I had.

Yep. Both mine.

I was still mainly relying on my dictionary and my reference books, but suddenly I could also rely on my computer to tell me if words were spelled wrong, or if my sentences were oddly constructed. (Okay - the grammar checking function mostly just annoys me, if I'm being honest, but it does help to point out some of the cases where words might be spelled right, but are simply the wrong word in the situation.)

Then - in 2007 - the iPhone came on the scene, and everyone suddenly had access to all sorts of technology right in one handheld device. Spellcheck and web searching became the norm, and - in many cases - it was for the better.

Which of these tools are you more likely to use for making a note?

But then we got into the age of autocorrect and speech-to-text writing. And writing in shortened "text speak," which sometimes seems to want to send us all into a course on ciphers and hieroglyphs. This is the world where a voice message asking about "Going to South Dakota for the weekend" becomes - in text: "Going to sort the code for the weakened." (True story.)

Granted, in some situations (I'm thinking enabling people who could not otherwise communicate) this is amazing. But, from an editorial and proofreading standpoint... wow... there are times when I miss the days of dictionaries and encyclopedias. Or at least the days when people would read what their computers were writing before sending it out for the world to see.

Of course, the more people ignore their dictionaries and rely on their autocorrected emojis, the longer I'll have a solid job. So maybe I shouldn't disparage all that tech quite so quickly.

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