Apr 21, 2010
photo credit: rahady
The first time I used a word processor was in the late 1980′s (or early 1990′s). Back then, WordStar was the most popular option, at least to my knowledge. I was fortunate enough to experience something that I think was better, though. The IBM compatible I used at work came preloaded with WordPerfect, and so that was my first exposure to the foray of word processors.
Watching the written word go from screen to paper, back then, was quite a wonder. Computers didn’t have GUIs, and most monitors didn’t have color. Print preview was a luxury only a few people could afford. You, therefore, had to know the meanings of various onscreen markup symbols by heart. And because mice were quite rare, you had to know all sorts of keyboard shortcuts and commands (most of which still work, with some variance).
Today, modern word processors are full of features and functionality. You can insert graphics, cliparts, create tables, insert different headers and footers, separate content by sections, and all sorts of bells and whistles. You can even find online versions of these document management programs, such as Google Docs, with some of the bells and whistles that their local counterparts have, with the added functionality of working from just about any browser, and from anywhere with an internet connection.
One thing remains the same, though. The quality of work still relies on the one typing on the keyboard.
I know how some of the best writers and commentators used to prefer old-school technology, such as typewriters, to create their best pieces. Somehow, the presence of all those bells and whistles might be daunting and distracting. Remember when Word 2007 first came out? A lot of people complained against the ribbon interface, saying it was confusing. Well, innovation is supposed to bring about easier ways of doing things. But I guess the human brain isn’t programmed to take innovation that easily. It’s very difficult to unlearn habits and practices you’ve already ingrained into your being, even if those habits and practices are old fashioned and stifling.
Still, when it comes to writing, I think simplicity is best. There may be many tools and applications that can help the technical writer produce his content. But I would go for something that’s distraction-free.
I’ve recently installed Dark Room on my Windows machines. Somehow, I’m enjoying the plain text on black screen again, like I used to. (Well, WordPerfect was white-on-blue, but Dark Room can be configured as such.) It’s not so much the feeling of being old-school. But for a person who’s easily distracted like myeslf, I like the fact that I can launch the application in full screen and just start writing. Sure, you can run Word in full-screen and change the colors, but it’s just not the same.
In fact, I’ve started working on my oldest laptop, for a change. I’ve just installed Windows 7, and the speed boost is great. The lack of bells and whistles let me focus on what’s important.
Going old school can sometimes be so refreshing.