Sunday, 14 February 2016

To Word Processing .... And Beyond

Making marks in the real world has real commitment and permanence about it - whether you are drawing in a cave, chipping on a stone or writing or typing on paper. I know this so well - the amount of tippex I used with pen and paper extraordinary - whole areas of paper layered in the white stuff. Its quite a skill to be able to write straight off without changing anything - a skill I haven't got - I love to chop and change so much. I have a rough idea in my mind what I want to say and for me a piece of writing sort of emerges and evolves as it is written - if I planned it then it probably wouldn't come out at all!

Word processing was a godsend for people like me who like to change their words and writing as they go along. Word processing is an excellent example of how technology can make things easier - to liberate and unleash potential .... as well as all the business related stuff of improving productivity, efficiency and transforming operations.

The first Word processor I used was Wordstar back around 1983 - running on CP/M ... on Research Machines 380Z hardware I think. While you could format text it was really more of a text editor to get the words right before printing and committing them to paper. Early word processors like Wordstar were great tools to work with words - they had simple easy commands that I remember to this day such as CTRL-K-B and CTRL-K-K to mark the beginning and end of a block of text before carrying out another command to do something with that block of text. However, to use these early word processors to do any serious page formatting was hard work and quite technical - I used to teach whole courses on just word processing - there were examinations and qualifications at various levels on just using the tool.

In the mid 1980s WYSIWYG was a revolution in computing and in word processing - you could finally actually see what your text might look like on a piece of paper rather than infer the look from technical specifications and settings used with the early word processors. Mice complemented the WYSIWYG revolution so well - you could see and work with your document in a more natural way - the tools were transforming and were transformational. I how secretaries trained in the touch typing and keyboard commands resisted using a mouse - saying it would slow them down .... but with mice ... resistance was futile. The main "battle" was between Wordperfect and Microsoft Word - the secretaries preferring Wordperfect with its keyboard shortcuts and everyone else preferring Microsoft Word with the mouse. At first we put both word processors on everyone's machines but after a while we settled on installing just one word processor for financial, support and maintenance reasons - this was the beginning of Microsoft's dominance and near monopoly of "Office" software since 1985 - people have grown up knowing nothing other than Microsoft Office and being taught nothing else in school's and colleges.

I ended up using Microsoft Word for all my writing for a good 25 years - although I didn't go as far as using Word to write emails as a lot of people did by integrating Word with Outlook - I preferred webmail anyway. for example. I remember back in 2007 using Word to write the text for blog posts - cutting and pasting text from Word into Blogger and Wordpress. When I started with Twitter I found 140 characters very challenging at first and ended up using Word to process the words and then past them into Twitter - it was a case of "better the devil you know" but I soon found it laborious to do it this way and switched to just typing straight into Twitter - it was a lot better!

Back in 2007 I started using Google Docs - back then it used to crash and slow quite a lot down but the advantages of accessing and sharing files on the web with only a browser from anywhere was better than the devil I knew and I switched completely - since 2008 I have only used Microsoft Office only when forced to e.g. certain official documents that use the old model where you have to download a file, open, fill in, save and send back it back. I still wrote my blogs with a word processor - I simply switched from Microsoft Word to Google Docs that's all.

Word processing is still a long form print model - the whole thing is built around pages for example - how ridiculous it seems that I used it to write tweets and blog posts! Google Docs was at first primarily built around the web document but was eventually assimilated by the standard print model for word processing to accommodate the mainstream office user Microsoft Office user.

I was in a rut but couldn't see over the edge to know it. Word processing had become a one size fits all sledge hammer to crack a nut better the devil you know type of thing.

I was becoming aware that with a word processor my writing was becoming laboured and constrained -  I decided to explore and experiment with new ways and things.

First of all I noticed how easier and better my writing was when it was in dialogue - "Three Horizons, Steve Jobs and Education" for example was written as an email response to a topic that came up in an email to The 157 Group. My thinking here is that a word processor although seemingly neutral has some subtle biases that somehow shape writing into a bland report style .... like the image to this blog post of a food processor that takes all those wonderfully distinct fruits and blends them into a homogenous mush. I am thinking of trying to base my writing on wherever possible on conversational beginnings and write in a conversational style. Normal conversational spoken word is different from the written word - when I transcribe video interviews on the inspireNshare Free Education Project I notice how disjointed speech is - how it flits back and forth as ideas come to mind as people simply talk naturally without a script. Its difficult to describe but I am going to try and write this way - in a more conversational and natural style if possible - to make my writing more like talking rather than writing.  Also, I recording dictaphone styli and even speech to text tools but I have to admit that its hard to do this unless in a real conversation. 

Next up - I found using other tools had an interesting effect - I was thinking about the rise of smartphones and the effect of this on education - I decided to practice what I was preaching and to write the blog post "Education Technology: A Crisis Of Relevance" on a smartphone using the native Wordpress text editor. I was surprised at the effect - it felt liberating. First of all it was refreshingly different to write on a less intrusive device and a simpler text tool.  I wrote as ideas came to mind in various locations at various times as I moved around. Using a convenient, smaller and simpler device and tool really helped ... it stopped me getting to long and helped me keep more to the point.

Next up ... I decided to just use text tools of the platform I was using - so for blogger for example - I just use the blogger text tool and then simply click publish. This is no doubt what most people do but I had gotten used to using a word processor so it took a bit of getting used to at first but, again, it was refreshing and liberating - I found I could just write easier when not using a word processor. 

So ... from using a word processor for almost all writing I now use a diversity of different writing tools - I like this.

I'm also wondering there is a new wave of writing tools is about to come in sometime soon - tools like Quip which at least originally was design for mobile collaborative web documents .. although just like Google Docs, Quip seems to be accommodating the standard model. Ultimately, I think tools that finally leave the print and PC model behind will emerge and stick and possibly become mainstream although it may take a generation to happen.

LOL .. just like talking .. I think I have waffled enough ... I better wind this up :)

To finish with .... I'm wondering what the effect of new media might be - I am intrigued how advanced technology can take us back to natural communication ... but at a distance. I'm thinking here about how the telephone brought back talking, about how video and video conferencing has brought back rich communication with all its non verbal aspects. I have to wonder what effect augmented and virtual reality will have. 

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