The Wonders Of Technology

I am not a Borg because I do not wear my electronics.

This wasn’t always true. I used to wear a USB drive around my neck which I used to joke was my “geek sex symbol” (in the vein of those who wore the symbol for Mars around their necks). I don’t carry a cell phone, since nine hours out of every work day I sit in a cube and a lot of the rest of the time I’m at home. On the rare occasions I am out alone at night I carry our shared cell phone, but usually in my jacket pocket, not on my hip.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m obsessed with electronics. Some of it is because of my profession but a lot of it is just plain interest. Yet despite the many “man-machine” interfaces around, I still find the keyboard and mouse to be the most natural. It’s quite literally what I grew up with.

I got to thinking about this when I was listening to Betty White’s latest book If You Ask Me (And You Probably Won’t). In it she talks about computers feeling unnatural to her, especially for writing. She mentions that John Steinbeck wrote standing up at a drafting style table and if it was good enough for him it was good enough for her. For her typing out her thoughts was a connection that didn’t feel natural to her brain. Now one could make the assumption that part of the reason for this is simply that Betty is pretty old, we watched her 90th birthday celebration on TV last month, but certain things just feel more natural to us than others.

NaNoWriMo was a great way of seeing the variety of approaches people my age take to writing. My favorite was a girl who had a portable typewriter. She used a roll of paper and caught the excess on a spool she fashioned out of plastic straws. Most used laptops or netbooks (like me), and still others fought it out with pencil and paper. I know that for me, writing 1700 words a day on paper would take three times as long as typing, but it also results in a different way of thinking about writing. It slows you down and makes you think about each word. In my case it doesn’t work out as well since I tend to write a section, realize I want to insert something a few paragraphs back and then have to a convoluted sequence of arrows or footnotes to insert the section. Typing just comes easier.

But computers don’t help me during revision. I like to use pen and paper, partially because I can see more of what I am doing, and partially because revision is one of those processes where I NEED to slow down and pay attention.

Technology is always changing, and some things are going to feel more natural to me than others. Even at the same level of technology one tool which is extremely helpful for one part of the writing process, is a barrier to other parts. I don’t know what will replace the keyboard, but I have a feeling I’ll be one of the hold outs till the very end. I’ve been using keyboards since before I really knew how to type (and I still don’t type “correctly” because of it), but it’s the best way my ideas flow at the moment.

Are computers “natural” for you or something else?


Filed under Trube On Tech, Writing

8 responses to “The Wonders Of Technology

  1. Chuck Conover

    I am a 50+ computer nerd who started communicating with computers in ’74, when you used dial-up, acoustically coupled modems and a 1 inch wide paper tape punched with your programs. (Can you say pocket protectors?)
    [You could tell the nerds from the FFA kids by what they had in their pockets. Nerds had roles of paper tape, FFA guys had SKOAL.]
    I have owned a variety of computers, starting with a TRS-80 Model 1. So for me, computers seem to be “natural”. Combine this with my lousy handwriting and complete inability to spell, and computers become a natural fit. (Spell Check please!)

  2. Lura Slowinski

    Computers all the way here. I use them for late-stage brainstorming, drafting, and the early parts of revision. Most recently I wrapped up edits of my novel on my Kindle, which allowed me to move it to a more readable format. I should probably try paper edits again, as I haven’t done them much since college.

    And yeah, they better not replace the standard keyboard any time soon. Or ever.

    • Editing a novel on the Kindle. Major props Lura! I love my Fire and all but I could never see myself doing any significant writing work with it (other than reading of course!). Even the Kindle Keyboard which my Dad has doesn’t have a big enough keyboard for me. The 94% size keyboard on my netbook is perfect though. I’ve written 250K words on that thing (and counting)!

      I’ve heard of ideas where they will use light sensors to project a keyboard rather than the physical object. Which keys you press would be determined by the waving of your fingers. If they do this I’ll have to do what some typewriter enthusiasts do which is create a windows sound for every keypress that makes their keyboard sound like a typewriter. The clacking of keys (even the quiet ones of my laptop) is just part of the ritual.

  3. I will always jot down ideas and make notes on paper, write my rough drafts on the computer, revision with pencil and paper and, whenever possible, write out a good copy on lined paper.
    I never use only words for idea-forming, so using a computer would constrict me, but when I really write, I understand exactly what you mean about efficiency, speed, and fluidity. Same thing here. But though it takes absolutely FOREVER and is only possible on very rare occasions, I like my finished version to say, “Hey, this is me- my words, my handwriting, my style. Me.”

    • I’ve thought about doing something similar with some of the nicer journals I’ve purchased, taking a finished draft and transcribing it in my handwriting. This would be a very personal artifact, given the fact that with my handwriting probably no one else could read it! I can’t see myself doing it with a novel, but maybe short stories. On the other hand, in the middle ages monks would spent a lifetime transcribing the Bible by hand. My fiction definitely does not measure up, but it would be an interesting exercise to take a piece of literature I admire and transcribe it in my own hand. I wonder how that would change my relationship to the work.

      Thanks Evlora!

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