If Only I Could Post This in a Dot Matrix Font

I was never the kind of student who liked to talk in class–too self-conscious, too afraid of saying the wrong thing–so of course I became a teacher. But before I became a teacher, I became a writer. And I use the word “writer” here in its most basic form: “one who writes.” So while I was amused to read the on-target prognostications of “Man-Computer Symbiosis,” I was especially interested in the line quoted by Licklider (with Robert W. Taylor) in the essay’s introduction: “In a few years, men will be able to communicate more effectively through a machine than face to face.” I don’t have the context for that particular line, but it’s an intriguing assertion. I think probably such claim requires a bit of qualification, so I’d rephrase that to say, “In a few years, and in certain situations, humans will be able to communicate more effectively through a machine than face to face.” It’s certainly more effective for my wife to text me that dinner’s ready or the dog needs to be walked or my kid needs help with his homework when I’m at one end of the house and she’s on the other end, one level up, but it’s not always about quickly covering a vast amount of space (which I do when I send a friend in Australia a video, or when my dad sends me a summary of my mother’s latest visit to her physician); it’s also about the act of writing, which I’d argue people do more now than they did twenty years ago. I seem to write emails and text messages (and now blog posts) as much as (if not more than) I spend time speaking to other humans face to face. As a student, I was much more confident when writing for class than when I’m talking in front of class, and I think that’s still true today. Surely it’s because I have more control when I type. I revise as I go. I delete. I pause to think about what I’m going to say, and the pause isn’t weird or uncomfortable. Moreover, the sending and receiving of messages is still a novelty for me, and within it lives a sort of anticipatory drama that doesn’t exist (or exist as much) in face to face communication (I have an email! I’ve got ten messages! There’s a little numeral 5 over the white globe icon on my Facebook!). I like the fact that sending email and texting and tweeting and Facebooking and Tumblr-ing and Instagramming allow me to craft and control and–to some extent–perform whatever I’m sending into the world. In that sense, and thanks in part to my computer, phone, Google and Word thesaurus, I do believe that I am a more articulate and effective communicator because of it. On the other hand, who knows what sort of writer I would have become if I’d never had access to a writing machine. Maybe I wouldn’t have chosen to pursue a career as a writer. I still write by hand a lot, but if I hadn’t ever been able to type a story in red ink on a typewriter or print out a poem on a dot matrix printer, maybe that particular spell never would’ve been cast.

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