Life without a backspace key: Thing you could manage it?
Jeremy Wagstaff | The Jakarta Post
Here's an idea. A word processor that doesn't process words.
You type. The words appear on the screen. That's it.
No delete key.
No backspace key.
No overwrite key.
Just you, the keyboard and a piece of paper (well, a screen, but it might as well be a piece of paper because you can't do anything to it once you've put a letter on it.)
You can't erase anything. You can't scroll back and remove stuff, or move stuff around.
Sort of like a typewriter. On your computer.
Now this might sound like a backward step.
Some of you may be thinking that you've paid good money - or your boss has - for a fancy computer that can do more or less anything you want it to, and so the idea of turning it into a typewriter seems a bit, well, silly.
Fair enough. But that hasn't stopped folk from developing the software to do it. And for people to download the software and use it.
First off, a few weeks back, there was a photographer and filmmaker called Joey Daoud who came across a quote from a novelist called Will Self, who does all his writing on a typewriter.
"Writing on a manual *typewriter* makes you slower in a good way, I think," Self told The Guardian newspaper in an interview last year. "You don't revise as much, you just think more, because you know you're going to have to retype the entire *expletive* thing. Which is a big stop on just slapping anything down and playing with it."
Inspired, Daoud hunted around for a programmer who could put together some software that mimicked a typewriter as much as possible.
Now there are actually plenty of distraction-free text editors around - ones that blank out the rest of the screen of distractions, pretty much. (Check out my list of such software here: http://is.gd/TdI0)
But Daoud's Typewriter is ascetic in the extreme: "All you can do is type in one direction," he writes on his blog. "You can't delete, you can't copy, you can't paste. You can save and print. And you can switch between black text on white and green on black; full screen and window."
He seems to have started something.
A similar program has just been released called Momentum Writer (you can find it on the list above).
Its author, software programmer and writer Jesse Wall, writes that it "forces you to write, to move forward, to add new words. It halts the temptation to linger, revise, and correct. Momentum Writer is a typewriter for your PC."
This all might sound daft or, at best, fodder for self-absorbed authors, but hang on a minute. I think they might be on to something.
When Wall posted his creation to a mailing list related to his primary creative writing software, Liquid Story Binder XE (which is excellent, by the way), he received nearly 40 responses.
They started out somewhat confused; most asked for a backspace key - typewriters have a backspace key, after all, don't they? (answer: yes, but it doesn't delete anything).
One railed against the effrontery of being asked to "to completely learn how to type all over again to use this tool otherwise. I'm not willing to lose precious writing time to changing the way I type when I rather like the way I type."
(Sheesh! You'd think she'd been asked to pay for the dang thing.)
Eventually sanity prevailed, and some wise words with it: "It's not about you relearning how to type," one poster wrote. "It's about forcing yourself to WRITE, and stop worrying about error correction, which can be a big barrier for some people."
Comments on Daoud's blog echoed this theme. Some seem to feel as if they'd just been asked to shoot themselves; others tap a nostalgic vein, when the clickety clack of the typewriter offered company, when putting something on the page implied a commitment that was hard to go back on.
As you might expect, I'm all for this.
I believe that technology has been really, really good to us, but we shouldn't be afraid of putting it in a cupboard once in a while.
Of course, when typewriters first came along writers looked down their noses at them, and writers like Bruce Chatwin said they could spot a book written on a word processor a mile off.
I started my career off on a manual BBC typewriter and I remember the looks I got in Bush House when I brought in my own electronic Canon Typestar one day, which allowed me to write a whole line onto a tiny LCD display the width of a thumbnail before committing it to the page.
Unsurprisingly, I didn't last long there.
But the point is that we - and I'm not just talking writers here, but anyone who has to sit down and write something at some point during the day - could all benefit from a bit of focus.
We shouldn't blame technology for bombarding us with stuff all the time, on our laptop, our cell phone, on the screens etched into the back of taxi seats.
But we could acknowledge the notion that technology, too, can be mobilized to force a simpler process on us: freeing us from distraction and forcing us to commit to what we do, one indelible letter at a time.