Well, of course, it’s not a bicycle, you think.  Whatever drug she’s on, I’ll take two.

Hold it right there.  Then tell me, oh, wise reader, why people of a certain age—yeah, my age, 64, or in that stratosphere—treat their computers like a typewriter.  Because a computer isn’t a typewriter either. 

“But,” those who grew up learning the qwerty keyboard in typing classes protest.  “But….”

Yeah, I know, the keyboard does resemble that familiar noisy manual thing of my teen years, and it places letters on a screen which can then be transferred to paper exactly the way they look on that screen.  But…A COMPUTER IS NOT A TYPEWRITER.

Case in point:  A few months back, a friend asked me to write a brief review of her current work in progress, and since the entire manuscript wasn’t fully prepared yet, she sent me a few excerpts.  When I pulled it up on my computer, I gasped.  Something odd had happened to what she’d sent me in the transition, and what I was looking at was a mess. 

I hit the show/hide  icon—you know, the one that looks like a paragraph symbol (it’s called a “pilcrow”)—on the ribbon in Word and was then able to see the source of the damage.  This brilliant, successful woman had committed  multiple formatting crimes, including inserting multiple extra lines she couldn’t see because they were blank and which only became visible with the show/hide on instead of page breaks which would have brought up a new page under any circumstances, not just with those particular margins.  But the worst—oh, my, my, my—the worst was using the tab key instead of formatting her paragraphs with a set indent.  I went screeching back to her e-mail and wrote back to her, advising her that she’d have less trouble with publication if she changed some of her manuscript preparation methods.

Only later did I hit on the real culprit.  Most of my contemporaries treat their word processing program on the computer like a typewriter.  You need an indent, hit the tab key.  You want a double space between paragraphs, hit the enter key twice.  My situation is different because I had my first personal computer back in 1982, and I learned to format everything with commands which I had to enter, e.g., typing in “Ctrl + B” (usually bracketed on either side by a symbol rarely used in the text, such as a double ampersand or two forward slashes), not just hitting Ctrl+B, for bold.  I couldn’t see the final product until I printed it out, and if I missed the second “Ctrl + B,” the entire document would end up in bold.  Surprise!

The same went for indents and spacing (single versus double, etc.), not to mention the amount of space between paragraphs.  You didn’t double down; you inserted a command to leave “X” amount of points in between. 

Those commands are still there, and the computer continues to read them; we just can’t see them in the text anymore because the technology has advanced to the point where we hit the commands and the text we see on the screen magically looks like what we set out to have end up on the paper.  But paragraphs must be formatted, not treated like so much ink impressed on paper by the keys of a typewriter.

And the biggest bugaboo is the tab key.  When advising others how to set up a file for independent publication, the first thing I tell them now is never, ever, ever use the tab key.  It is not your friend.  The tab key screws everything up because a computer is not a typewriter. 

It ain’t a bicycle either (in case you hadn’t noticed).

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