(This blog first appeared on MHSAA.com on May 11, 2012.)
I am famous at home and office for my lack of keyboarding skills. The only “C” grade I received in high school was a summer school course in what was then called “typing.” At Dartmouth I paid a woman who worked at the dining hall to type my college papers. In an early job at the University of Wisconsin I typed the play-by-play of Badger football and basketball games with a clumsy “hunt-and-peck” approach.
Today, with the same lack of style, I pound out dozens of emails daily, hammering the keys like my first manual typewriter required four decades ago.
But for any document of great length or importance, I do as I’ve always done: take up pencil (my software) and legal pad (my hardware). There is no question that, for me, the nature of the equipment I’m using for writing affects the nature of the thinking.
With his eyesight failing late in his life, Freidrich Nietzsche bought his first typewriter, changing from pen and paper to the new technology of the 1800s. According to a 2008 article in Atlantic Monthly by Nichols Carr, a friend wrote to Nietzsche in a letter that, since adapting to the telegraphic style, Nietzsche’s terse prose had become even tighter. To which Nietzsche replied: “You are right, our writing equipment takes part in the forming of our thoughts.”
Which makes one wonder where all today’s tweeting and texting may take us.