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Microsoft Word and writing
March 4, 2012 2:18 PM   Subscribe

Has Microsoft Word affected the way we work? "Consider first the name that the computer industry assigned to it: word processor. The obvious analogy is with the food processor, a motorised culinary device that reduces everything to undifferentiated mush."
posted by anothermug (96 comments total) 24 users marked this as a favorite

 
The term "word processor" predates Microsoft's program. Wikipedia says that IBM invented it in the 1960's. But I think it became widespread with the Wang Laboratories systems, in the 1970's.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 2:23 PM on March 4, 2012 [5 favorites]


I like writing and reading as much as I like cooking and eating, which is to say they're all some of my favorite things. The quote posted with the FPP here is nonsense, which doesn't bode well. Food processors can do a lot of different things, and is mostly just a labor-saving device. If I'm making a mayonnaise, I'd much rather have the food processor do the emulsification than wisk it myself. That said! Haven't read the article yet, so maybe it's not as silly as the quote makes it sound.
posted by kavasa at 2:23 PM on March 4, 2012 [7 favorites]


Rather...a motorised culinary device that makes a number of foodstuffs more workable, considerably reducing the time and effort required for their preparation and this opening up new options for recipes.

Also smoothies.
posted by biffa at 2:24 PM on March 4, 2012 [3 favorites]


Sounds like someone doesn't know how to properly use food processors or writing software.

(not that Word is a great tool but it's not the worst thing ever either)
posted by Doleful Creature at 2:25 PM on March 4, 2012 [18 favorites]


It certainly has affected the way idiots at work send me screenshots. Seriously, fuck you people.
posted by Threeway Handshake at 2:27 PM on March 4, 2012 [62 favorites]


The obvious analogy is with the food processor, a motorised culinary device that reduces everything to undifferentiated mush.

Why isn't the obvious analogy (given that it's software) to computer processor, a revolutionary device that applies rigorous logic to the simplest possible inputs, easily creating a result orders of magnitude more complex and useful than would be possible by performing the same task manually?
posted by Homeboy Trouble at 2:27 PM on March 4, 2012 [3 favorites]


Why isn't it obviously a workable tool much as is a typewriter rather than an entirely pointless article full of shit?
posted by Space_Lady at 2:30 PM on March 4, 2012 [2 favorites]


"Has Microsoft Word affected the way we work?"

Yes.

"But we were – and remain – remarkably incurious about how our beloved new tool would shape the way we write."

Ah, there you go confusing yourself with all of us, again.
posted by chasing at 2:30 PM on March 4, 2012 [17 favorites]


That analogy breaks down faster than a carrot in a food processor.
posted by vidur at 2:30 PM on March 4, 2012


Ok! I've read it!

I am fairly underwhelmed!

He seems to think that word processors have resulted in a less comprehensive revision style, and that seems plausible. We're not often looking at whole first drafts with red pen in hand. But he also makes no judgement on whether that might be good or bad, instead saying that it would be great if someone did some research on how computers have affected writing. And then, evincing some structural issues in his own writing, he ends on a super-awkward "someone was wrong about a thing" note.

What a strange little essay!
posted by kavasa at 2:31 PM on March 4, 2012 [3 favorites]


Have we also considered that if a train station is where a train stops, what that implies for a work station?
posted by MartinWisse at 2:31 PM on March 4, 2012 [24 favorites]


I'm glad that people can write columns about topics without researching them overly much.

Despite the tone of novelty attending the column, it turns out this is a well thought-through and analyzed issue, with notables like Michael Heim's Electric Language, Bolter's Writing Spaces, Lisa Gitelman's Scripts, Grooves, and Writing Machines, and Friedrich Kittler's Literature, Media, and Information Systems, and so on. Then there's those that hint at useful arguments, like Goody's The Logic of Writing, Fischer's A History of Writing, Heidegger's discussion of the typewriter (he hates it), and so on. Hell, even Nietzsche wrote about the impact the typewriter had on his own writing processes. And those are just the references that come to my mind quickly and that aren't penned by McLuhan, who only gets a perfunctory nod here. I'm probably forgetting a handful of even more germane cites.
posted by hank_14 at 2:32 PM on March 4, 2012 [26 favorites]


So we went for Microsoft Word like ostriches go for brass doorknobs.

What?
posted by kamikazegopher at 2:34 PM on March 4, 2012 [11 favorites]


Boy was my boss furious when I lit a fire under my co-worker's ass! It was almost as bad as when I took my project and ran with it, and then kicked it through the uprights.
posted by jimmythefish at 2:35 PM on March 4, 2012 [6 favorites]


How does the blender figure in here?
posted by telstar at 2:39 PM on March 4, 2012 [1 favorite]


I thought this was going to be the thing about the executive who used to dictate a letter and move on to the next important thing but now spends 20 minutes playing with fonts and spacing.
posted by michaelh at 2:39 PM on March 4, 2012 [3 favorites]


Visual Assist X has affected the way I work. As has Perforce, though not necesssarily for the better.

Microsoft Word? I'm not sure I've used it this century.
posted by Foosnark at 2:41 PM on March 4, 2012 [2 favorites]


The subbie got it right before the article even started: "we dunno!"
posted by wilful at 2:43 PM on March 4, 2012


"one begins by hacking out a rough draft which is then iteratively reshaped"

Pretty much describes that piece-of-shit article.
posted by Ardiril at 2:44 PM on March 4, 2012 [3 favorites]


And in French a food processor is called "robot de cuisine" giving the obvious parallel that word processors are actually french speaking robot writers, and Microsofts master plan is to replace existing writers with callic electronic dopplegangers.
posted by Grimgrin at 2:45 PM on March 4, 2012 [1 favorite]


Has Microsoft Word affected the way we work?

Uh, yeah...so has the dollar menu at McDs for a lot of people. The article is kinda thin and sort of stuck in the "tell us something we don't know please" land.

I give it a solid Meh.
posted by lampshade at 2:47 PM on March 4, 2012


To be fair, I think if every author was required to type out their manuscripts, it would reduce the number of back-breaking fantasy novels. I am looking at you Erikson and Martin and King!
posted by GenjiandProust at 2:48 PM on March 4, 2012 [1 favorite]


And why do we drive on the parkway and park on the driveway? And what is the deal with airline food, anyway?

I do miss using LaTex and WordStar, though.
posted by Sidhedevil at 2:49 PM on March 4, 2012 [2 favorites]


Apparently, John Le Carré still works in pencil. Can not imagine. Really can't imagine working on a typewriter either. But maybe I'd be a better typist, and the backspace key wouldn't be by far the most used key on my board.
posted by Trochanter at 2:49 PM on March 4, 2012


To be fair, I think if every author was required to type out their manuscripts, it would reduce the number of back-breaking fantasy novels. I am looking at you Erikson and Martin and King!

PAY NO ATTENTION TO THAT WALTER SCOTT BEHIND THE CURTAIN

ALSO DICKENS

AND TROLLOPE

THOSE BASTARDS WROTE EVERY WORD OF THAT SHIT BY HAND, YO

OG4L
posted by Sidhedevil at 2:50 PM on March 4, 2012 [4 favorites]


@GeniandProust, Hegel wrote Phenomenology of Spirit by hand, as did Stephenson with his Quicksilver trilogy, if I remember correctly. So, maybe it wouldn't help that much.
posted by hank_14 at 2:50 PM on March 4, 2012 [1 favorite]




To be fair, I think if every author was required to type out their manuscripts, it would reduce the number of back-breaking fantasy novels.

I thought that too until Stephenson switched to quill and produced the Baroque Cycle.
posted by hattifattener at 2:52 PM on March 4, 2012 [4 favorites]


All I want is reveal codes functionality. The whole outline view is just not rocking it for me. Oh man, am I old if I remember scriptsit?
posted by jadepearl at 2:53 PM on March 4, 2012


If we can have word processors to process words and food processors to process food, where are the sex processors?
posted by evilmidnightbomberwhatbombsatmidnight at 2:54 PM on March 4, 2012 [1 favorite]


Lately I've trying out Gmail and Google Docs for my writing needs and realized just how great Word can actually be. Google Docs is like herpes with serious self-esteem issues.
posted by Foci for Analysis at 2:57 PM on March 4, 2012 [4 favorites]


MS Word means I no longer have to use that terrible pain in the ass that was Q&A. Or WordPerfect. Or Notepad. Or Wordpad. Or vi.

If we can have word processors to process words and food processors to process food, where are the sex processors?

You rang?
posted by Mister Fabulous at 2:58 PM on March 4, 2012


The obvious analogy is to a medical insurance claims processor, so clearly word processors are ACTIVELY ATTEMPTING TO PREVENT WORDS FROM EVER BEING USED!
posted by kyrademon at 3:01 PM on March 4, 2012 [3 favorites]


MS Word means I no longer have to use that terrible pain in the ass that was Q&A. Or WordPerfect. Or Notepad. Or Wordpad. Or vi.

Vim is text editing (note: not word processing) perfection. As a programmer, you can have it when you pry it from my cold, dead fingers.
posted by spitefulcrow at 3:01 PM on March 4, 2012


A blind James Joyce dictated Finnegan's Wake to Samuel Beckett. Joyce had invented the Snufalupagus character and had initially intended to put it in the novel, but Beckett protested early and often that 'paste' had not yet been metaphorically invented and that writing 'Snufalupagus' over and over was just too much and he'd better re-think the random appearances.
posted by jimmythefish at 3:02 PM on March 4, 2012


Or vi.

I shall dd the fact that you ever did that from my mind.
posted by Space_Lady at 3:12 PM on March 4, 2012 [1 favorite]


"This 'wheel' apparatus makes it too easy to get from place to place. Walking gives you time to think and forces you to appreciate the scenery."
posted by Etrigan at 3:12 PM on March 4, 2012 [2 favorites]


People have been trying to wring some sort of higher insight of the mechanics of writing for many decades. Did the invention of the fountain pen affect the way people wrote, having previously used quill pens? They could write whole paragraphs without having to dip the pen in the inkwell.

Writing takes place in the mind of the author, not in the writing instrument. You could use Shannon's classic information theory, it's a communication between two minds via a carrier channel that uses mechanical devices like pen and paper, typewriter, word processor, print, web, etc. Some carriers are more efficient to produce works for, some are more efficient to consume, some carriers have more noise or less. The carrier channel can be subtracted from the equation entirely. Since we don't have telepathy and direct mind-to-mind communication, we use symbols and languages.
posted by charlie don't surf at 3:14 PM on March 4, 2012 [2 favorites]


Vim is text editing (note: not word processing) perfection. As a programmer, you can have it when you pry it from my cold, dead fingers.

So what's your opinion on emacs?
posted by Mister Fabulous at 3:14 PM on March 4, 2012 [8 favorites]


This whole "writing" thing is of course a barbarous innovation that has surplanted the proper order of things where we just memorize everything.
posted by Artw at 3:14 PM on March 4, 2012 [2 favorites]


Microsoft Word is great. Though it took some getting used to, the ribbon in 2007 and 2010 is so much better than the menus.

I think the killer feature of word processors is automatic spell checking. The wavy red underline in Word has to be one of the greatest advances in communication technology ever.

Here’s a tip for all the bad spellers who use Microsoft Word: shift + F10

This will bring up a context menu with suggested spelling corrections. There’s no need to use the mouse. This is a huge time saver.
posted by Jasper Friendly Bear at 3:17 PM on March 4, 2012 [2 favorites]


Shannon and Weaver's information theory provides a terrible way of understanding how inscription technologies affect cognitive thought processes. The definition of channel and noise are simply insufficient to cover changes in perceptions, sense-ratios, or expectations that attend different writing media.
posted by hank_14 at 3:18 PM on March 4, 2012 [3 favorites]


Literature and Latte's Scrivener: Was the human mind made to comprehend so many windows?
posted by Artw at 3:22 PM on March 4, 2012


I'm convinced that 20 years of word processing has actually shaped the way I process information. I delete more than I keep. This habit of thinking about not only what to say, but also the best possible way to say it, has changed the way I write. It has also indirectly changed my life, influencing things like what I've done for work and who I've fallen in love with.

There are many interesting things to say about the impact of word processors. Unfortunately, this article doesn't say any of them.
posted by diorist at 3:28 PM on March 4, 2012 [5 favorites]


It's changed the way I write for sure. I graduated from high school in the early 90s, and thus all my English class essay tests were written longhand. The only things expected to be done on the computer were longer papers. I had great facility at organizing my thoughts before starting to put them down, because I did it all the time. Starting in college, most things I turned in were word processed, and over the years I've slowly but surely lost the ability to put my thoughts together before starting to type - because I don't bother, since there's always the option of continual revision.

I've been writing a new blog for a little more than a year, and I find that I can't even bang out my blog posts, which range between 1,000-1,800 words, in one piece. I start writing, I find myself digressing, I come back to the first topic, I decide the digression belongs later in the entry and cut and paste it, I expand on the digression, I consider that maybe these are two separate entries, I keep writing and find the link between them, or I don't, or I split them off and go back to elaborating on the first one, then chop it down into shape. It's enormously frustrating when I think of how good I used to be at organizing my writing before actually doing it.
posted by jocelmeow at 3:32 PM on March 4, 2012 [2 favorites]


Was the human mind made to comprehend so many windows?

You use Scrivener with multiple windows? How does that even work? I thought the whole point was to have everything you needed there in the one main window. That's sure how I use it.
posted by pts at 3:37 PM on March 4, 2012


Considering the type of person who comments on Metafilter - a highly literate internet user - the level of hostility to this article is unsurprising.
posted by The River Ivel at 3:40 PM on March 4, 2012


I was going to write about how surprised I always am that so many use Word (or Office), not because I have anything against it, but because it seems overkill for most people’s needs. Then I realized that the author was using "Word" for word processor, or working on a computer. This kind of thing hurts my head.
posted by bongo_x at 3:45 PM on March 4, 2012


I do miss using LaTex and WordStar, though.

Yeah Wordstar. I used that more than I ever used Word, and liked it better too. Wordstar on my Kaypro 2 writing my thesis. The keypad all programmed up for cursor control. Man I wish I had those days back again (except the Compuserve part).
posted by DarkForest at 3:46 PM on March 4, 2012


Considering the type of person who comments on Metafilter - a highly literate internet user - the level of hostility to this article is unsurprising.

Highly literate internet users are exactly the type I'd have expected to recognize the article as the tripe it is.
posted by kenko at 3:50 PM on March 4, 2012


I use word 97. Do you know how sweet a 1 second boot time is? Definitely looking to go retro in photoshop, too.
posted by Trochanter at 3:50 PM on March 4, 2012 [3 favorites]


I love word processing because I used to write papers by hand, cut and tape. Then transcribe via typewriter.

But, yes, it has changed the way I write. Used to take weeks of copying by hand anything I wanted to quote from something I'd researched at the library. Now it's all electronic. It truly takes less time and less thought. The part that I've not transferred to digital is the back-of-mind mulling that sometimes brought insight.

I don't miss white-out one little bit and I hate typewriters. I'm much more efficient but less calculated in my present day writing.
posted by mightshould at 3:56 PM on March 4, 2012


The other day I got a letter from the author of a book I'm adapting for the screen. It was a very sweet letter but more to the point it was typewritten.

It really made me sit back because I started out on typewriters -- I love them, and I wrote my first screenplay on one -- but I haven't typewritten since about 1988. I was hit by a wave of nostalgia and a sudden desire to go buy one. And I still kind of have that feeling.

The great thing about the typewriter is the emphasis on forward motion. That's basically how I write using a WP, but I sometimes wonder if I'd write like that if I'd never used a typewriter.

The sad truth is however that it's quite impossible to use a typewriter for many of the tasks a professional screenwriter is expected to do these days (it was always tricky but now it's impossible). For example, last week I had to do a quick pass on a script that was going out to an actor over the weekend. It needed to go out Friday night but I was still to-and-fro-ing with the director late on Friday afternoon about dialog cuts and changes.

So, yeah, I'd love to be able to use a typewriter, and for first drafts it's still something I'm considering going back to, but for actual production work it's a pipe dream these days.
posted by unSane at 4:02 PM on March 4, 2012 [3 favorites]


Microsoft Word has affected the way I work. Because of Microsoft Word, I don't use Microsoft Word.
posted by iotic at 4:33 PM on March 4, 2012 [4 favorites]


You use Scrivener with multiple windows? How does that even work? I thought the whole point was to have everything you needed there in the one main window. That's sure how I use it.

Technically it's got lots of panes, not lots of windows, but it does not make for as good a pretend headline.
posted by Artw at 4:41 PM on March 4, 2012


I use OpenOffice so I'm obviously immune to this problem.

SRSLY the premise starts with such an ignorant assumption, that Word is the original and ultimate word processor, that it's hard to take the rest of the thing seriously at all.

When I was in my late teens I wanted a practical word processor more than I wanted just about anything else. Even though I was one of the fastest typists my high school ever produced I simply couldn't get my thoughts onto the paper at the speed they occurred, and I kept losing the stream. Maybe I could have overcome that but a few years passed and I got a Coleco Adam, and then I didn't have to.

In those days most WP's weren't portable either. I actually have an Osbore I; I wasn't able to afford one back in the day but I got it in deep obsolescence from a thrift store for yuks. It features a 64-column wide view onto an 80-column page in WordStar. Unbelievably annoying, yet Durk Pearson and Sandy Shaw praised it as one of the bestest things ever in Life Extension.

I'm so old I remember when Stephen King thought the word processor was enough of a novelty to write a horror story about one. (Then again, he once wrote a horror story about a sipping straw, but that at least was fundamentally gross.)

In the fullness of time I've used the Coleco Adam, an Amstrad PCW9512 (still the best I've ever used), Bank Street Writer on PC, WordPerfect for DOS, Wordpad on Windows 3.11, MSWORD 97 and 2000, and since I don't use software that phones home to see if it should disable itself, OpenOffice. To greater and lesser degrees they make writing easier and, in some cases, possible. Most of the others have been more important to me than MSword though.
posted by localroger at 4:47 PM on March 4, 2012 [1 favorite]


The first Mac came out when I was a freshman in high school, which is also when I wrote my very first short story. So my entire fiction career has been done on a word processor of some sort or another. I can't imagine trying to write a novel on a typewriter; the idea of having to go back and retype every goddamn thing would have probably kept me from writing fiction at all. As a writer, I am definitely a product of the digital age.

I wrote one novel with Microsoft Works, one with TextEdit, five and a half with Microsoft Word, one half with Google Docs (it's not ready for prime time when it comes to longer works), and I'm currently writing another on a localized instance of WordPress, just to see how it works for me (so far, so good, but I think part of that is due to the fact I'm writing this novel on a Mac Air with relatively limited screen space; if my desktop hadn't crapped out I've be writing it on my 24-inch monitor, in which case I'd be using MS Word, with two pages popped up at a time).

As I go along the thing I notice I want most out of a word processing program is that it stays out of my way while I type. My needs are fairly modest (basic editing/formatting, spell-checking, word count) so after that I just want it to go away and let me do my thing.

This is perhaps why I can't comprehend why so many writers I know seem to drool themselves silly over Scrivener. It just seems like such a pain in the ass to me. I'm glad it works for them. For me, the first time I tried it I wanted to set it on fire.
posted by jscalzi at 4:48 PM on March 4, 2012 [6 favorites]


I actually write with a lot of different things. Usually, I jot notes into a google doc, then take those into Scrivener when I want to make them into an actual project. From there, I export it to Word for revisions and rewrites.

For me, typing is why I can write at all. My handwriting is so slow and so terrible that I'd never get anything done writing by hand.
posted by Ghostride The Whip at 4:50 PM on March 4, 2012


Unless you randomly surf Google Books for hours, you don't appreciate that there was just as much bad writing in the past, maybe more, because (contrary to the cultic image of the Great Writer or Scholar), having to work from longhand drafts and typed manuscripts can't have conduced to repeated revisions. Other writers relied on secretaries to carry out the revisions.

I appreciate this more now because last year, in a misguidedly kind impulse, I offered to type up the handwritten MSS. of a 90yo neighbor who doesn't have a computer or even a word processor. He has a typewriter but at this stage prefers to write longhand. I got the slightest taste of what it was like to live back in the days of Mad Men, presumably this guy's heyday. (I did get paid for this, but the tedium--!)

When I got too annoyed, I figured that the ultimate in douche baggery would be for a young writer to do this, write in longhand despite his ability to type and use MS Word, because he has to do it just the way Hemingway or Faulkner (insert $GREAT WRITER) did it, and, continuing the traditionalist model, demand that his gf or wife type up his manuscript.
posted by bad grammar at 5:02 PM on March 4, 2012 [1 favorite]


This whole thread is an example of the effect, if considered in the Meta. (no pun intended)...

The change in our style of work is all due to being able to edit interactively, and has NOTHING to do with the vendor of said editor.

The other change in our style of work is that of wanting to bang out content quickly, then move on... having editing as an option (in most cases) but never actually using it. If someone were to keep their old blog posts up to date, for example, it would see just odd to most of us.
posted by MikeWarot at 5:13 PM on March 4, 2012 [1 favorite]


I would say powerpoint has done exponentially more damage than word. Educators who work with powerpoint long enough can't form coherent arguments after a surprisingly short amount of time. The slideshows turn into a jumbled mess of slides that have little/no connection to each other, and certainly don't form a linear train of thought. It's just semi-random information collected on slides.

Powerpoint is the devil in software form.
posted by tcobretti at 5:32 PM on March 4, 2012 [3 favorites]


Ah, I remember well the beautiful prose that one could find in inter office memos, financial reports, and product orders in those halcyon pre-Word days.
posted by Joey Michaels at 5:34 PM on March 4, 2012


forget MS Word,it's all been downhill since the invention written language
Socrates tells the story of the ancient Egyptian god Theuth, inventor of letters, and what the god and king Ammon (Thamus in Greek) said to Theuth about his invention:

The specific which you have discovered is an aid not to memory, but to reminiscence, and you give your disciples not truth, but only the semblance of truth; they will be hearers of many things and will have learned nothing; they will appear to be omniscient and will generally know nothing; they will be tiresome company, having the show of wisdom without the reality.
posted by ennui.bz at 5:47 PM on March 4, 2012 [3 favorites]


Editor "Hey John, hows that article coming? You promised to get it to be by close of business remember?"

John - Scans items on desk for panicked inspiration, casts eyes over monitor, considers article on monitors... Ahhh bingo! Microsoft Word! Saved

"No problems, just finishing it up now."
posted by mattoxic at 5:50 PM on March 4, 2012


maybe I'd be a better typist

Word, or rather the dozens of word processors and other computer-based writing systems (including this browser comment window right here) have made me a much, much better typist. On a typewriter, where I learned, I struggled to get over 30 WPM, and could only do so with horrendous error rates. Even if I said the hell with it and just banged it out, I was slow; if I had to correct those errors, or work in fear of them, knowing that erasers, Wite-Out or even corrective tape always looked like shit, my rate went much lower.

On a computer I can go 90 WPM without much trouble, even after factoring in frequent backspacing.

Subjectively, I think computers have made me a much better writer as well: pithier, snappier, more thought out, much better to read. Which gives you an idea of how godawful I must have been before!
posted by Fnarf at 5:52 PM on March 4, 2012


The real problems with Microsoft Word are the opposite of the ones he identifies: it costs too much, it has more features than most people need to do most things, it's too slow and cumbersome to well accommodate the frequently fast and disorganized nature of writing. To fix all of those problems, of course, you should look into one of its many alternatives. At the very least, please stop being one of the many persons in my class who's taking class notes in Word and saving that enormous bulleted list file God knows where.

Lamenting that Word has made it easier to write, though? Made it so you don't have to have your own secretary or typist to make your revisions? Made it so we don't have to cover our hands in ink and surround ourselves with the balled up remnants of old trees? I guess making the thing you do technically more difficult to accomplish is one route to job security.
posted by Apropos of Something at 6:24 PM on March 4, 2012 [1 favorite]


Blame MSWord and not teh internets. Seems like a man bites dog op ed.
posted by outlandishmarxist at 6:24 PM on March 4, 2012


One more thing about the old backspace key. I think on a typewriter you might actually not have your idea stalled because you're in type mode and you'll fix later, as opposed to hammering on the backspace key like a typo or two will make it so you won't remember what you were actually trying to type twenty minutes later.

I shudder to think how many backspaces I hit just while typing this little entry. I am on a new keyboard, I guess...
posted by Trochanter at 6:44 PM on March 4, 2012


Sometimes I catch myself using Word to take notes. Lately I've been extra naughty and have been trying OneNote out, but it seems to meet the definition of "overkill" if you're the kind of person who gets lost trying to use all of the nifty features (in the foolish hopes of having some sort of organizational epiphany) in a truly spectacular piece of bloatware. I've also played with Evernote but typically use Notepad or Notepad++

I started out in the MS-DOS 4.01 world (after the hand-me-down VIC-20) and remember writing text files with COPY CON ...CTRL+Z and editing them with EDLIN. This was easier most of the time than my alternative: WordPerfect 5.1 from good ol' Orem, Utah. That was an amazing program but you really had to make a deliberative decision every time you used it: "do I really need to do this in WordPerfect?"

The DOS 5.0 EDIT.COM program was a revelation. It really was a great UI for its time and was the underpinning for the QuickBASIC/QBasic and QuickC IDEs.

WriteMonkey is a pretty good specialized tool for those who just want to type of drafts with little in the way of distraction.
posted by aydeejones at 6:49 PM on March 4, 2012


"There are many interesting things to say about the impact of word processors."

Word!
posted by Ardiril at 7:05 PM on March 4, 2012


Microsoft Word makes it easier to write the works of Shakespeare than ever before. Thank you, cut and paste!
posted by TwelveTwo at 7:06 PM on March 4, 2012


Hate Word. Aimless bloat code built by Redmond committee drones to please marketing drones targeting the tedium demographic that insists on cramming endless multitasking ideology down the throats of the proles out in the cubicle farms.

A tool for writing is about writing. Word is a tool for ticking off boxes on to-do lists.
posted by sonascope at 7:22 PM on March 4, 2012


Oh you noobs, you don't know the pleasure of input on an ASR-33 to punched tape and editing it with scissors and tape. Yes really, I have done this.

We go through this every time word processing comes up. Oh the good old days, when men were men and word processors weren't for secretaries anymore. So this drives the ridiculous urge for retro nostalgic crap like WriteRoom, it's just like a vintage 1983 TRS-80, text editing stripped down to nothing, but now you need a $1000 computer to run it.

This is why I quit photography for a long time. All photographers ever talk about is cameras and lenses. They never talk about photographs. Writers are getting to be like this, all they can talk about is word processors.
posted by charlie don't surf at 7:48 PM on March 4, 2012


I had to use Word for some papers in college because the .doc is some kind of industry standard in the humanities and now I'm just baffled by how Microsoft still exists. I mean, how many millions of people use Word every day? At least one of them has to be an arsonist.
posted by d. z. wang at 7:53 PM on March 4, 2012 [3 favorites]


Olive oil comes from pressing olives. The obvious analogy is to baby oil.
posted by shakespeherian at 8:31 PM on March 4, 2012


Nota Bene, bitches!

Had to support my dad out using it on his 286, rocking Hercules monochrome (as it was the only adapter supported for some of the fonts he needed for his D. Phil).

bangs head against wall for a few minutes, then stops

He still wishes he could show codes in a GUI world...

gets right back to damaging the wall
posted by Samizdata at 8:32 PM on March 4, 2012


Microsoft Word 5.1a for the Mac was a wonderful thing.
posted by mazola at 8:33 PM on March 4, 2012


Interestingly, Microsoft Word has improved my spelling. I am still a poor speller, but having autocorrect instantly notice and change my bad spelling provided a frequent and immediate reminder about the words I tend to get wrong, until I learned to get them right.
posted by latkes at 9:10 PM on March 4, 2012


They've got the new Word at my school. It is awful. Took me like 3 minutes to find the damn word count. Immediately swore I'd never use it again if I can help it.
posted by saul wright at 10:59 PM on March 4, 2012


Interestingly, Microsoft Word has improved my spelling.
Microsoft Word has made my spelling more Americanized. (Sure, there are regional settings, I guess, but I use MS Word as infrequently as possible, so I haven't customized any of the options.)

As for what word processing software in general has done to my writing: I actually revise things now. I didn't use computers until my second year of university, and I don't think I ever revised an essay before that (or at most, I'd white-out a few words or at most a sentence). It was just too much damn work to copy out that page again, or worse, rewrite the whole thing from scratch. (I had a typewriter for a couple of years, but found that more annoying to make revisions on than handwriting was. At least with handwriting you could expand or condense the text size to fill up the whited-out space, or to take up exactly the one page that you were re-writing.)

Now I still only usually produce one version of a paper, but it's mercilessly revised as I go, so that each paragraph morphs into something completely different and teleports around the paper several times before I get to the end. I think my writing is better for it by far.
posted by lollusc at 12:30 AM on March 5, 2012


Microsoft Word affected the way I worked 20 years ago, but only because it was my job to write code to read and write Word files. (You think it's only bloated on the outside?)

More recently, LaTeX has affected the way I work.
posted by erniepan at 1:02 AM on March 5, 2012


They've got the new Word at my school. It is awful.

The version where it hides all the menus and have to make do with cutesy, far too big icons in the taskbar on top?

Hate that, doesn't work for me and it's incredibly annoying to see so much other software embracing that design philosophy (I'm looking at you, Opera).
posted by MartinWisse at 1:26 AM on March 5, 2012


Y'know, the Ribbon hate always confused me as I don't find it to be that annoying... But then I realized its because I am on a Mac, where the app menu bar (File, Edit, Save, and all that) hasn't been excised. So I can still bring up stuff the old way, or use the Ribbon for the most commonly accessed stuff.

I started out on AppleWriter. Then Word for Mac. Then Word on Windows. Now back to Mac again. For all the complaining about the tools, I have to argue that a lot of the issue with specific kinds of word processors is the fault of the user: if you have no good ideas, or are not motivated, nothing you use will help you write anything well. Some programs may fit your personal workflow better. But there's nothing about Word the automatically makes you a terrible writer when using it. Just like a terrible writer using LaTeX is still going to produce terrible output. (In a font apparently designed to scream out "Hey I am using LaTeX!")
posted by caution live frogs at 5:45 AM on March 5, 2012


I do miss using LaTex and WordStar, though.

I for one do not miss WordStar. (Wrote most of my college papers using it at the campus computer clusters, printing them out on the daisywheels.) I also don't miss the Terak systems and their 9" floppy disks, on which I learned how to write simple C programs in first-semester CS. And we shall never speak about that damned pfs:Write program that came with early IBM DOS.

a motorised culinary device that reduces everything to undifferentiated mush.

You're doing it wrong, Mr Naughton.

We are all word processors now.

As we were before, only we were processing words with different tools, like pencils and typewriters.

We need more scholarly research on the subject.

So that fluff journalists can then mock such research as a waste of tax dollars, no doubt.
posted by aught at 6:49 AM on March 5, 2012


I'm definitely with tcobretti (and Edward Tufte) on this one...PowerPoint (at least the way it is used/abused in this country) is the real evil lurking in our classrooms and boardrooms and its effects are spread wide across the land.
posted by soy bean at 7:39 AM on March 5, 2012 [2 favorites]


PowerPoint (at least the way it is used/abused in this country) is the real evil lurking in our classrooms and boardrooms

Amen. And PPT is used by a great many many execs and sales reps as if it were their only word processor. Because there's no reason to write in any style other than bullet lists surrounded by jaggy, stretched-out-of-proportion .JPGs copied off the Internets.
posted by aught at 8:03 AM on March 5, 2012


In high school, I used my Mom's Triumph-Adler Royal daisy-wheel typewriter. I once used an entire roll of correction tape for a three-page paper! I hated that thing until I later created a black box to connect its serial port to that of my IBM PS/2. I was able to get all of the parts at Radio Shack without having to special-order anything (i.e. a long time ago.)

Listening to WordPerfect clacking out my typo-free writing at >100 wpm instead of my own dismal 20 wpm for the first time was like sweet, sweet music.
posted by double block and bleed at 8:08 AM on March 5, 2012 [1 favorite]


like ostriches go for brass doorknobs

Seriously, is this a thing?
posted by bendy at 11:31 AM on March 5, 2012 [1 favorite]


It looks like you're trying to write an Op-Ed article!

Would you like help making a salient point?

posted by Uther Bentrazor at 12:16 PM on March 5, 2012 [5 favorites]


One's choice of writing software is, ultimately, highly personal and resists easy analysis. What really matters is what one produces with whatever you do use, which is why a lot of the aesthetics-driven hate on particular writing programs puzzles me. As Merlin Mann put it:
Distractions have never prevented a Writing Writer Who Writes from writing; distractions are an excuse proffered by Non-Writing Non-Writers Who are Not-Writing for why they are not writing.
That said, though I've come to appreciate MS Word more in the last few years, there are plenty of good reasons to want to knock it off its pedestal: cost, speed, feature bloat, proprietary data formats, &c. Fortunately, one nice thing about the rise of the iPad (in particular Microsoft's bizarre decision not to develop a version of MS Office for iOS) is that more people are coming to discover that you don't need to be locked in to Word to write. I look forward to a world where all you need to write is Markdown and a good text editor.
posted by Cash4Lead at 12:32 PM on March 5, 2012


Fortunately, one nice thing about the rise of the iPad (in particular Microsoft's bizarre decision not to develop a version of MS Office for iOS) is that more people are coming to discover that you don't need to be locked in to Word to write.

MS Office for iPad might happen. It's already available as a virtual desktop.
posted by charlie don't surf at 7:54 PM on March 5, 2012


There's a link up there in the comments which I'm having trouble finding now, to a piece which changed my (working) life when I first saw it - it preaches the necessity of separating the creative act - the writing - from the layout & 'fontage' - the typesetting if you will. So now I write my stuff in Emacs org mode or even more simply as plain text, only then if strictly necessary pasting (yanking!) it into Word for formatting, pagination etc. Separating the thinking and creating process from the fannying about works for me big-time.

TL;DR - I try to use the tools for what they're best at.
posted by Boggins at 5:10 AM on March 6, 2012 [1 favorite]


I think the killer feature of word processors is automatic spell checking.

Web browsers have this as well. I'm surprised they don't let you create and save HTML files within the main interface ... maybe they do?

Anyway, yeah, Word, last century. Is this post still around? ... rolls dice and posts.

PowerPoint (at least the way it is used/abused in this country) is the real evil lurking in our classrooms and boardrooms and its effects are spread wide across the land.

Also last century. And I know it's still ubiquitous but once you start seeing Google Doc presentations, you'll wish you had PP.

NoteTab Light.
posted by mrgrimm at 7:23 AM on March 6, 2012


94 comments down, I think it's fair to say there should be a "crap link" flag. (not saying the thread itself isn't half interesting, but the link stinks.)
posted by mrgrimm at 7:25 AM on March 6, 2012


"It certainly has affected the way idiots at work send me screenshots."

Shameless, but apropos, self-link.
posted by clvrmnky at 7:40 AM on March 6, 2012


I've written three books using Emacs and DocBook XML (for O'Reilly). It's good enough for larger works. For shorter pieces I write the text in Emacs and then paste into whatever editor is needed and tweak the formatting.

I think I want to focus on the words and their order, but not their appearance, at least until delivery.
posted by mdoar at 3:35 PM on March 7, 2012


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