by Conor Friedersdorf

Matthew Lee Anderson follows up on Clive Thompson's observation that the word processor allowed him to “write longer, more discursive drafts, letting my thoughts wander into ever-more-creative-or-weirder nooks."

The word processor didn’t open up those corridors of thought–it simply externalized the process of getting there.  In a world where multiple drafts was both cumbersome and time consuming, those wanting to work out every detail of their thinking could do so in conversation with others or themselves (which we might call “thinking”).  The backspace button has rendered that process less important, which has doubtlessly altered the way we approach the craft of writing.

Contrast that with how Thomas de Zengotita describes writing in Mediated, which is one of my favorite analyses of our contemporary life:   “The idea is that reading and writing, by their nature, turn the mind inward, cultivate habits of rational reflection, encourage the imagination, the inner life in general–thus giving birth to a self in the modern sense.” ...My suggestion is that the backspace key works against that aspect of writing through the hasty externalization of ourselves in solitude.  The alternative to thinking alone is thinking out loud and where if we need to externalize thoughts before meandering down every corridor ourselves, we might turn to have a conversation with someone else.  Now it’s easier to throw down stream-of-consciousness thoughts and let the editing process take over.

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