The Computer Age

Finding Forrester is about a young boy who accidentally finds a famous author past his prime. During his time with Forrester, the boy learns how to write, better than he ever has. He learns how to focus his thoughts and put them to print, all by using a typewriter. The question I have is what has happened to our writing now that we are in the computer age. Everything is so much faster. It’s clear that punctuation has gone out the window. When we write something for publication, a paper or otherwise, when you make a mistake it’s a quick point and click fix, compared to the typewriter age where you’d have to retype the entire page you were working on, if looking for a perfect final. I suspect that now that we have computers to make our lives easier, things take longer and are less correct than if we were using a permanent medium to construct our work.

I believe that in our computer age, all of these things are fluid or forgotten, and that along with many other electronic solutions, computers don’t really help us do anything faster. Rather, they add to the complication of our lives when we are striving for simplicity. To examine this point, I will look at three segments of writing: the main point, punctuation, and deadlines.

The Main Point
With the advent of email, stream of consciousness is the prevailing method of writing. With stream of consciousness as the guiding writing, principal basic tenants of writing seem to be lost such as focus. I’m guilty of this in many of my writings. Although I will have a main point, or central theme, I will get sidetracked with tangents and often not go back to the theme.

It feels like if we were not in the computer age, we’d be penning these thoughts instead of typing them, and the thoughts reserved for type would have had several rough-written drafts before being committed to typeface. Once committed to typeface it was permanent. What’s on that page better be complete because after you set it to go, there is no turning back once you’ve printed thousands on the expensive paper. You would hope there was a coherent theme, points to integrate the theme, and a conclusion to tie it all together. Nevertheless, with our Computer Age, we just sit back and type whatever comes to mind, hit send, and let it wander around forever in its permanent editable state on the internet.

Punctuation
Punctuation really needs to be included with proofreading, and simply the ability to type. I type fast. The fastest I’ve been tested is near 100 words per minute. Although my speed is great, it’s not that required of legal secretaries. Moreover, to top it off, my error rate is high at 1-3%. That means I do a lot of backspacing and spell check use. In fact, as I write this I’m typing it into an email which will be sent to Blog Spot. I use the email method, Outlook, instead of Word because the formatting is less on the actual blog. Regardless, I have the things required: spell and grammar check as I type, spacing corrections, and all grammar styles I could dream of. Actually, it’s telling me right now that I need to change that “of” over there because it’s an end-of-sentence preposition.

Spell check, as we’ve all seen, doesn’t catch everything. I could type a correctly spelled sentence that made no grammatical sense, a sentence that might not even be caught properly by the grammar check. This could be The Dumbing Down of America. Blindly correct all words and phrases and you have forgotten your grammar school grammar and you’re left with a paper that doesn’t make sense.

We’re living in a world so fast that it’s easy to hit the send button instead of forcing ourselves to look over what we’ve written. If we looked over what we have written we might see that the apostrophe doesn’t belong where we put it, the “I” really belongs with a “T”, not by itself, and quit is really supposed to be quiet or quite. We’d make questions questions, and we’d ignore Microsoft’s advice on where to put that comma before which or that.

Timelines
I have a feeling that deadlines were deadlines back in the day. I have a feeling that people had a better sense of how long something would take. Pushing out a letter for a business certainly doesn’t take long, but if it’s for the Medical Director and three others need to see it before he does, you may be making changes until next week when the letter really should go out tomorrow. We print, review, print, review, and print and review again. Each time on screen and in print, we notice several changes that need to be made, never closer to a perfect publishable draft. So, what has happened to our timelines and sticking to them? What happened to working backwards, understanding how long it took for each segment, completing each task on time, and then, when it’s all done it’s done on time. They do it in the construction industry, with misspelled construction documents, but they get it done. Why not in the written world, the other business world, why don’t timelines mean anything anymore?

Every publication I’ve had a chance to work on has gone past its deadline. A good portion of the blame can be put on my shoulders as the inexperienced one with no clue what the timeline would look like. Nevertheless, in each instance, I was working with people who had been on the project before or had been on a similar project, so they should then have an idea of the required timeline. Therefore, you would think that their input would maintain the schedule they said I should follow. Except they were sidetracked with an email alerting them to the day’s fire that needs to be put out and the timeline is pushed back yet again.

To sum up these points, it feels like the computer age has assisted us in loosing focus, forgetting grammar, and disregarded timelines. This predicament reminds me of the vacuum cleaner. The vacuum cleaner was touted as an electronic device that would save the housewife time in her daily chores. What happened was a different story. The vacuum raised the bar on expected cleanliness. Now that it was easy to make sure the floor was swept on a regular basis, other things that were dusted weekly now needed to be dusted daily. It was a mark of accomplishment and comparison when people would visit each other’s homes. Her house must be as clean as mine must, or mine should be cleaner. Now, it seems we have a warped version of that trend, how much can we get done is the theme throughout. It’s no longer about quality but now about quantity. Fix “x” number of fires per day and just get them done instead of getting one done well.

I suppose the solution is one person at a time taking the time to stop and smell the roses. But who will start?

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