TITLE: The Computer Reconfigured Me AUTHOR: Eugene Wallingford DATE: December 12, 2009 10:15 PM DESC: ----- BODY: Joe Haldeman is a writer of some renown in the science fiction community. I have enjoyed a novel or two of his myself. This month he wrote the Future Tense column that closes the latest issue of Communications of the ACM, titled Mightier Than the Pen. The subhead really grabbed my attention. Haldeman still writes his novels longhand, in bound volumes. I scribble lots of notes to myself, but I rarely write anything of consequence longhand any more. In a delicious irony, I am writing this entry with pen and paper during stolen moments before a basketball game, which only reminds me how much my penmanship has atrophied has from disuse! Writing longhand gives Haldeman the security of knowing that his first draft is actually his first draft, and not the result of the continuous rewriting in place that word processors enable. Even a new generation word processor like WriteBoard, with automatic versioning of every edit, cannot ensure that we produce a first draft without constant editing quite as well as a fountain pen. We scientists might well think as much about the history and provenance of our writing and data. Yet Haldeman admits that, if he had to choose, he would surrender his bound notebooks and bottles of ink:
... although I love my pens and blank books with hobbyist zeal, if I had to choose between them and the computer there would be no contest. The pens would have to go, even though they're so familiar they're like part of my hand. The computer is part of my brain. It has reconfigured me.
We talk a lot about how the digital computer changes how we work and live. This passage expresses that idea as well as any I've seen and goes one step more. The computer changes how we think. The computer is part of my brain. It has reconfigured me. Unlike so many others, Haldeman -- who has tinkered with computers in order to support his writing since the Apple II -- is not worried about this new state of the writer's world. This reconfiguration is simply another stage in the ongoing development of how humans think and work. -----