"FIRST"??!? (Was: word processor history -- interesting article

Fred Cisin cisin at xenosoft.com
Wed Jul 6 15:19:12 CDT 2016


On Wed, 6 Jul 2016, Evan Koblentz wrote:
> All about some of the earliest people to write books using word processors.
> http://www.theatlantic.com/technology/archive/2016/06/how-to-write-a-history-of-writing-software/489173/?platform=hootsuite

"The first person to write abook using a word processor" is 
essentially, "who was the first consumer?".
It is directly analogous to "Who was the first person to drive a car?"

Admittedly, the first person to use a word processor was probably typing 
business letters and/or legal documents, which is what they were developed 

But, should we accept his example of the first? private purchaser of a 
word processor, who had a SECRETARY typing?  Before that, secretaries 
who used word processors at work would moonlight typing manuscripts for 
people, and often take them in to the office to use the handy hardware 
there.  Thus, if we take his example, we need to go back earlier to the 
first manuscript typing typist who took it into the office to work on.

So, shall we revise our question to: "Who was the first author to type it 
himself using a word processor?"

Then, we run into the most common flaw in ALL "FIRST" claims, of selecting 
the first biggie, and ignoring all of the little guys.
Hardly ANY "FIRST" claims are valid for that reason.
Who built the first automobile?
Not only will we ignore the real first guy, because he didn't SUCCEED in 
going into production, over the years, he will fade from history, 
and we end up with a public who believe that Ford invented the car, Edison 
invented the lightbulb, and Jobs invented the computer.
First driver was likely in 1768 (Cugnot), although others possibly before.
Do we Verbiet's Chinese car in 1672 that was too small for an adult?
Followed, with probably a few in between by deRivaz in 1807.
1886 Benz made the first "production" automobile, but you have to wonder 
how many were made before that that couldn't get off the ground in 

Jerry Pournelle was, indeed, an EARLY adopter, but NEVER "first".
But, he might qualify once we change our question to, "Who was the first 
author to type into a word processor a PUBLISHED, nay "best seller", 
We will probably immediately rule out ("as irrelevant") theses, term 
papers, etc.   If it wasn't a "book", then we don't care.
Unpublished manuscripts?  "irrelevant"
Published manuscripts from "vanity press"?  "irrelevant"
Published manuscripts that never got successful distribution?  "irrelevant"

Yep, we are really talking about who wrote the first "best seller".

"Mark Twain was the first author to use a typewriter"
Yeah, right.
Declaring him to be first is highly dubious.
Unless maybe the first company to make a typewriter give him a 
PRE-RELEASE freebie, just for the "free ink" PR?
In that respect, Jerry Pournelle leads in a lot of other "firsts".
My trade show staff had standing orders, "get a cold beer into his hand, 
and give him samples of everything that we're offering."
(Giving Dvorak an alpha-test of XenoCopy was a big mistake!  We got free 
ink about needing work.)

It would make far more sense, instead of looking at authors, and asking 
about their tools, to INSTEAD, look at the tools, and see who were the 
first purchasers.   Just as you might for "first driver".
THAT leads us back to his example.
But, it also leads us to "which was the first commercially available word 

I have little or no knowledge of early dedicated word processors.
So, in the canonical idiocy, I will simply dismiss all of those as 
"irrelevant", even the 1970 time-sharing system that had a text 
editor!, and stick with microcomputers.

The first microcomputer word processing program that I was aware of was 
Michael Shrayer's "Electric Pencil", but there were probably others 
before that.

Next step would be to look at Shrayer's (or previous) customer records and 
ask, "Which of these customers was writing a book?"

"Which came first, the chicken or the egg?"
The rooster.

Word Processors and word processing software were developed because there 
was a need.  Admittedly, they were probably developed not for the need of 
manuscript editing, but instead for the digital sweatshop of legal 
documents and office correspondence.  In which case, "Who was the first 
(probably UNAUTHORIZED) person to do their personal manuscript on company 

MUCH later, I used "Electric Pencil", and then "Scripsit" on the Model 1 
TRS-80 to do the manuscript of my Honda book.  the publisher then RE-typed 
it into their Merganthaler.  Do we consider it "irrelevant" if the word 
processor was only used in pre-production?

Since common practice was for publisher's editors to have manuscripts 
re-typed with their changes, there is no way to know how many submitted 
manuscripts had been written on word processors.

I printed 80 column lines on 132 column paper.  Centered for the editor, 
to give him lots of room to scribble on, and flush left of the 
illustrator, so that he had a big block of space to the right of the text 
to make early sketches.  Peter Aschwanden was in my opinion, the best 
automotive illustrator in the business.

In the UC Berkeley School of Library And Information Studies (SLIS), 
in the early 1990s, I was the first student to use a word processor for 
PhD written exams.  "Are you willing to publicly state that I willbe 
graded on penmanship?"  After one hostile prof made a big fuss about "how 
to sanitize" a machine to keep me from smuggling in pre-written blocks of 
text based on previously used questions, I told them to use a random 
machine from the lab or outside, and remove the floppy drives.  I said, 
"ANY popular word processing program, but tell me which program 6 weeks 
in advance, so that I can learn that program".   We ended up using 
Windows "WRITE".  In spite of silliness about "you can't bring your 
jacket or backpack into the room", they chose to leave the floppy drives 
in, and had me save my answers to their floppies, for them to do the 
printing.  (They then added a header, messing up all of my planned page 
breaks)  I can NOT claim to be the "FIRST", despite UC Berkeley's 
claimed pre-eminence in all things.  I'm certain that other schools had 
been doing it for most of a decade.

Of significan interest to me, is that in the 1980s, there were some 
serious studies done on the impact on writing style of various systems. 
Such as small (in terms of lines and characters per line) screens, such as 
TRS80 and Apple tended to produce a choppier style, with a lot more 
redundancy (ideas, sometimes entire sentences and paragraphs being 
repeated on other pages).
Just like my writing this with 80 x 24.
Larger screens (more lines, not eyestrain issues) produced smoother 
transitions, and generally better organization.
I'm not aware of newer serious studies on that.

Grumpy Ol' Fred     		cisin at xenosoft.com

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