I began writing around the age of nine on a manual typewriter that a friend gave me. As an undergraduate in college, I wrote an average of 18 papers per semester for my gloriously “writing intensive” classes before the term was coined using an electric typewriter and small amounts of White-out. Deprived of an online library, email, Internet access and, of course, a personal computer since none had yet been invented, I soldiered on quite nicely, maintaining both a solid level of productivity and a healthy, active social life.
My first book was written on a PC Clone that I built from parts using WordStar for DOS and a dot-matrix printer built sturdier than a Sherman tank. (I still have a working copy of DOS 5.0 and WordStar 3.3 in my Compaq transportable computer that belongs in the Smithsonian but works just fine, blissfully oblivious of its obsolescence.)
I was happy and truly productive with my DOS-based desktops, transportables and laptops. Then came Windows in increasingly bloated and buggy versions, and the Mac, and the Internet and I now I have a ridiculous amounts of technology in every room of my house and at work. But am I really any more productive, and is my writing, in particular my fiction and poetry, any better? I honestly don’t know. I could write faster, more efficiently and without any distractions using my first PC and all of my DOS-based machines prior to the invention of the Internet. That is not subject to debate. WordStar with its arcane commands and stiff learning curve allowed me to all the flexibility I needed to write quickly and efficiently without WYSIWYG, GUI, unnecessary graphics or five-minute bootups and endless daily software updates–and it did it all without ever requiring me to take my hands away from the keyboard. (I can still recall the arcane WordStar commands and can use my Compaq transportable with its massive 10 MB hard disk and 5.25″ floppy drive any time I feel nostalgic.)
On balance, has technology truly improved our writing and productivity or has it simply become a crutch and a vehicle for endless creative time wasting in lieu of more productive endeavors such as, well, writing?