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High-tech makes weak writers.

Today was my turn in the barrel with technology.

You guessed it: My hard-disk crashed. It happens to everyone, sooner or later.

Out from its dusty corner I brought my reliable typewriter, only to find the physical skills required to use it are gone. In an earlier time, writing was healthful, manual labor. Now it's a sedentary pursuit that makes your muscles soft.

Ripping sheet after sheet of fine, white bond from the jaws of the carriage all day and pitching them, crumpled and spent, in the general vicinity of the wastebasket, victims of an insincere Muse, was an aerobic workout!

On a manual typewriter, you could sweat off two pounds overwriting a sentence like that.

And editing with red pencils was healthful, too. Drawing road-maps to show how paragraphs should be arranged and fine-tuning copy with little proofreader's marks gave me good eye-hand coordination.

What's more, carbon paper was good for your mental health. Even when you didn't write anything worthwhile all day, you could go home with filthy hands and dirty cuffs looking like you had put in hard time.

On my worst days as a manual writer, I was a great shot, and that was something to feel good about.

I fear computers are sapping my strength as a writer. They check my spelling and can second-guess vocabulary and syntax, if I want to buy programs that let them do it. My brain is turning to mush and my pitching arm is completely gone.

A sad commentary from a guy in a technology company. But it's okay. These are the '90s. Men are allowed to express their pain.

Computers make it easy to write poorly.

In fact, I wouldn't have written that sentence on a typewriter. I would have written, "Computers make it easy to write wrong." Maybe that's syntactically incorrect, but I didn't know it then, and you've got to agree, it has more zing written the wrong way.

Nor would I have been so pusillanimous at the typewriter, as I am at the terminal. I would have written exactly what was in my gut.

Come to think of it, I never, ever would have written "pusillanimous" before, because I couldn't spell it.

I would have used "chickened-out," or some other everyday word, because it's faster to write a simple word than look up one you can't spell.

The computer spells for me now. It's disgusting how mentally incontinent I've become.

Another failing with this high-tech approach is you tend to keep drafts that ought to be tossed, because you can. It's good to throw away first attempts and clear your mind.

For example, the other day I was working on a speech. I wrote a line that was pure poetry. Problem was, it had no relevance to the point I was making.

In the good old, low-tech days, I might have scored three points in trash-ball with that sentence, so the effort wouldn't have been a total waste of time.

But, this time I fooled around for an hour, calling it up and trying to mark-and-move it into places in the text where it might make sense.

I keep it on a floppy some place. It calls to me still.

This is progress, huh?

Next up for high-tech communication, I predict programs that question your judgment on the political-correctness of what you write.

Oh, boy, I can't wait for this. (Pol. Correct Fault Warning: "Boy" is a sexist pronoun. Recommended alternative word: "Juvenile.")

If you say so. Oh, JUVENILE, I can't wait.... (Pol. Correct Fault Warning: Taken out of context, reader may infer a pejorative if addresed as a "juvenile.")

Hey, hold on. That was your word! (System Error: 16-1. Pol Correct System Is Not Fault-Tolerant. Retry? Ignore? Abort?)

(Pol. Correct Fault Warning: "Abort" is an offensive term for a large segment of society. Recommended alternative word: "Terminate.")

Just a gosh-darned minute! Will the computer please do a Level One Diagnostic on itself, or whatever you call it, and let me get on with this story?

Jeesh, the nerve of some machines!

I can see where some people would say this is progress. After all, effective communication is making sure nothing is misinterpreted.

But where will it all lead?

A computer-genius friend of mine says it is conceivable that computers and video-teleconferencing will marry so you can interpret body-language. Imagine that.

Underneath each television monitor, an electronic message board could display what the sender really means.

"Well, hello, Basil. Sorry to keep you so late in the office over there in the U.K."

"No, problem, old... Ah, no problem." (...Subject's mouth-wiping gesture means he is embarrased that he almost called you "old boy," which is a political double-fault and loss of serve.")

"I got your proposal. It looks good. You really think you can bring it in for that price?"

"Ah, well, yes. It will be a struggle but I'm confident my team can do it." (...Lack of direct eye-contact and scratching the head indicate subject is lying and may have dandruff. Retry? Ignore? Ab.. Terminate?)

What do you mean, terminate? (...Hasta la vista, Basil baby!)

If this is what we have to look forward to, then I know why those Luddites near the turn of the century busted their machines. They knew the end was coming.

I'm going back to my trusty, manual typewriter before it's too late. I need to get back into shape.

One final thought: "Like the sun draws rain from the oceans, leaders draw power from their followers and reign only so long as they empower others."

Hmmm. Nope, that darned speechline doesn't fit here either. I should toss it, but floppies make lousy Frisbees.
COPYRIGHT 1992 International Association of Business Communicators
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1992, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

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Title Annotation:Section 3: Communication in Transition - From Art to Science; writing with computers
Author:Wann, Al
Publication:Communication World
Date:Feb 1, 1992
Words:946
Previous Article:Down with quality program-itis.
Next Article:Rebuttal from the next generation: get a life or a hard-hat.
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