On Wordprocessing

Plenty of writers balked at the joys of word processing, for a host of reasons. Overwriting, in their view, became too easy; the labor of revision became undervalued, and noisy printers and plugged-in gadgets the norm. When Gore Vidal wrote in the mid-1980s that the ‘word processor is erasing literature,’ he expressed an uneasiness about technology’s proximity to creative writing (and the wider field of publishing) that persists. This too is the literary history of word processing, a snapshot of dread about gadget love, the seduction of the screen, and automation and the threats they pose to writers. This dread has taken various forms over the years. It lurks in the background of Sven Birkerts’s late-1990s jeremiads against the Web and Leon Wieseltier’s 2015 diatribe about what distraction was doing to the contemplative mind (and, by extension, the writer). Paradoxically, much of the hand-wringing over digital-era distraction as a mortal enemy to thinking has given rise to apps: Scrivener, or WriteRoom, or Write or Die, the last an online editor that promotes concentration by erasing your text if you pause too long between keystrokes.