Back in the dark ages when I wrote my first story, the few computers that existed were generally refrigerator-sized, if not larger, and extremely rare. I’ve never been against technology, and back then, the most advanced off-the-shelf technology for a writer was an IMB Selectric typewriter, non-correcting. I later upgraded to a correcting Selectric with an electronic spellchecker of sorts. Finally, when the 286 processor was developed, I shifted to using a computer to write. That made me a little later in adopting computers than some other writers, but the 286 was the first processor that fit my writing style. That meant that, for the first eleven years of my professional career, I typed out every page of every draft of my stories and novels.

There’s one effect of the shift to electronic production of manuscripts that’s seldom noted, except by those of us who had to struggle with the need to turn in a clean typescript manuscript, laboriously typed out manually, because there was no real alternative. We had to be careful, because, even with correcting tape or Wite-Out, too many mistakes meant getting rejections or retyping, by hand, the entire page – especially if you were working on submitting your first novel. Unless, of course, you were wealthy enough to hire a secretary, which very few struggling writers seldom were, or are, even today.

We had to be careful. There were no electronic spellcheckers and no grammar checkers, and one of the unspoken requirements for a real editor to look at your work was submitting at least a moderately clean manuscript with correct grammar, except where required in dialogue. Also, redrafting a novel took a LONG time. In that time period, one of the great advantages Isaac Asimov had was that he could type well, accurately, and moderately fast and that his understanding of grammar was good enough that he usually only needed to type one draft.

Today, far too many would-be writers don’t really understand grammar well enough, and they leave the “details,” such as spelling, to the computer, and it shows. Unfortunately, this excessive reliance on computers extends far beyond the mechanics of writing. Too many young people don’t understand the limitations of Google or other search engines, and they’re used to multiple-choice tests, and instant answers and satisfaction.

The result is all too often sloppiness in all aspects of their work… and what’s worse, all too many of them don’t see that sloppiness… or care.

Despite all protests to the contrary, technology amplifies everything, including sloppiness.

5 thoughts on “Sloppiness”

  1. John Prigent says:

    Wsy bsck in 1959 I had to learn to type up Army orders – zero mistakes, no erasures and/or overtyping with the right word permitted. My typwriter bore the inscription ‘patent pending 1917’, so yes, it was a manual one with nothing but the letter and number keys. Fast forward 20 years and I was out of the Army when one day my secetary was on holiday and I needed a very urgent letter to be typed but none of the other secretaries had time. So I sat down and turned on her fancy electric machine to do it myself (not supposed to be done by executives). Suddenly I realised that the busy click-clicking around me had been replaced by a deathly hush. I looked up to see all the other secretaries staring, amazed that I knew how to type and wasn’t needing any backspaces for corrections. The icing on the cake came when I heard a muffled whisper of ‘it’s not fair, he can type faster than I can and he isn’t making any mistakes’. The secretaries treated me rather well after that episode. Fast forward again to now and I have to slow down my typing because a computer keyboard can’t keep up with my speed, so I have to check every few lines to make sure that it hasn’t skipped or jumbled letters and even complete words. I’m not sure that 2019 machinery is actually an improvement!

  2. Lourain says:

    Spell check is useless when someone uses a term with homonyms. It’s even worse when the person hasn’t a clue which homonym is the correct usage. My favorite example is “to reign (rein) in”.
    Also, spell check is often useless when using technical terms.
    But for me, the worst of all is autocorrect. !*&#!

    1. Tim says:

      I will admit I have sent some howlers in my time due to autocorrection. I think the best was ‘Optimistic’ FORTRAN compiler instead of ‘Optimising’. The truth will out.

  3. Wine Guy says:

    Ah, yes. The old days! When double spacing lines was the norm, you could get Sister Mary Michael’s ruler across your knuckles for not hitting the space bar twice after a period, and when the ‘e’ and ‘s’ were frequently a little askew because they were getting worn and the school couldn’t afford a new typewriter.

    I don’t miss those days.

  4. Yes, I agree with everyone above. My pet gripe is the homophones, like your/you’re and its/it’s etc. As an adult, I learnt to touch type and it was an excellent decision. Not as a time saver, but it allows me to try out a sentence or a paragraph and then rejig it, or delete it or … All said, computers as text editors/word processors have been a great boon.

    PS…Thinking about what irritates me the most is Android/Apple’s idiot auto-correct feature.

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