My Computer Isn’t a Typewriter
My father purchased an IBM Selectric typewriter in about 1975 and pumped out several ceramic textbooks with it. I recall it cost about $800, which was a huge purchase. Around the age of ten, I used (under direct supervision) his typewriter to write reports, but this technology only eliminated my poor penmanship. Yes, whiteout was my best friend. Around 1980, we got our first computer, a Wang with a daisy wheel printer. It had an excellent word processor (for the time), and I used it for everything.
It was essentially a text editor with very limited spell-checking. However, this was a lifesaver and vastly improved my writing quality. We upgraded computers over the years, which added fonts, typesetting (WSIWG), and better spell checkers.
In the early nineties, I came across the book The PC is Not a Typewriter by Robin Williams. No, he is not the Good Morning Vietnam Robin Williams. It described how to transition from a typewriter to a word processor, including the many bad writing traits that were brought over from the mechanical days.
While reading this book improved my writing, some undesirable traits remained. For example, adding two spaces after a period is no longer necessary, and I do this every time. Often, I forget to go back and delete the extra spaces.
Why were two spaces necessary? Way back when, this was essential for mechanical typesetting, but now that practice wastes paper. I appreciate mono-spaced fonts, wide margins, and use double spacing to bulk up documents. ALL CAPITOL LETTERS to make my POINT and spaces instead of tabs for easy/quick alignment.
Fortunately, I have embraced several improvements. A big one is the ability to import from other sources. For example, if I was writing a book about the Metropolitan Museum of Art, I could copy that text from the internet, and my document would have correct spelling. See, I just did it.
Search engines are a superb resource that the typewriter never had. For example, I can use it as a spell checker. Let’s take the word “metropolitan” and pretend I typed “metrooplatin.” Looks right? But, none of the Microsoft Word suggested words look correct. If I paste this radically misspelled word into a search engine, it suggests the correctly spelled word.
Modern word processors also allow us to import pictures, share documents, easily change the format, merge the text around objects, and preview before printing. The internet lets us change a document into an unfamiliar language, find additional content sources, and check facts.
Overall, writers should focus on their words and let the computer handle everything else. They can also use the internet as a fact checker, thesaurus, “urban” dictionary, source of material, and a means of distribution.
We now have the endless freedom to make our documents read and look better. My computer is no longer a text editor. It is a word powerhouse, and I would dread returning to a typewriter. Alright, truth. I would dread only being able to use pen and paper. Nobody would understand a thing I wrote. Even me.

You’re the best -Bill
October 11, 2018 Updated September 16, 2023

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