Writing vs. Word Processing

The most significant benefit of using a computer to write philosophy papers was that I could now produce a “typed” draft, mark it up with a pen, and then enter the corrections on the terminal. That was completely different than what I had always done. In the past, my typed draft had to be my final draft. Everything prior to the typed draft was handwritten.

Why was this so important?

This new way of interacting with text made it possible to have at least the appearance of making progress on a paper. The text could be entered on the terminal, and then printed out with page numbers, justified margins, and even italics and boldfaced type! Of course the printed output from the DEC terminal was vastly inferior to that of my Adler typewriter. The terminal printhead was a 9×9 dot matrix, and the output was accordingly not “letter quality” or even “near letter quality” or NLQ, a well-known term shortly to be in wide use ! But that didn’t matter. The other features of the printed text outweighed the inferior readability of individual characters.

E-mail and messaging was possible, but not in widespread use, because almost no one else had accounts on the mainframe. E-mailing or electronically sharing files was possible but not actual, and so the goal was still to produce a hard-copy product that could be shared with others. But we quickly appreciated that the files stored on the DEC mainframe were what really mattered, and our access and editing time on the department’s terminal was carefully planned.

 

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