Via The New York Times, a reminder of how quickly we forget the machines and programs that changed our lives: A Literary History of Word Processing. Excerpt:
The literary history of the typewriter has its well-established milestones, from Mark Twain producing the first typewritten manuscript with “Life on the Mississippi” to Truman Capote famously dismissing Jack Kerouac’s “On the Road,” pounded out on a 120-foot scroll, with the quip “That’s not writing, that’s typing.”
The literary history of word processing is far murkier, but that isn’t stopping Matthew G. Kirschenbaum, an associate professor of English at the University of Maryland, from trying to recover it, one casual deletion and trashed document at a time.
Pay no attention to the neatly formatted and deceptively typo-free surfaces of the average Microsoft Word file, Mr. Kirschenbaum declared at a recent lunchtime lecture at the New York Public Library titled “Stephen King’s Wang,” a cheeky reference to that best-selling novelist’s first computer, bought in the early 1980s.
“The story of writing in the digital age is every bit as messy as the ink-stained rags that would have littered Gutenberg’s print shop or the hot molten lead of the Linotype machine,” Mr. Kirschenbaum said, before asking a question he hopes he can answer: “Who were the early adopters, the first mainstream authors to trade in their typewriters for WordStar and WordPerfect?”
It's an exquisite irony that documents created on such machines, with such programs, had lifetimes far shorter than that of, say, the Dead Sea Scrolls.