Gregory Dennis: Columnist works in an over-computerized world
I have five computers.
It took three of those computers just to write this column.
Something has gone terribly wrong.
It used to be that a columnist could pound out a thousand words on a manual Smith Corona typewriter and be done with it.
To be sure, there was plenty of cutting and pasting involved in that process. (And for those of you who don’t know Paul McCartney was in a band before Wings, I do mean actual cutting and pasting of little scraps of paper with words on them.)
But after all that pounding and pasting, the copy went to an editor. The columnist could be content with his own wit and perspicacity, followed by a return to dreaming about his Pulitzer Prize acceptance speech.
It then became the editor’s unhappy task to make sense of the columnist’s scribbles.
But first she had to lecture him on the nuances of lie vs. lay, and mutter under her breath about arrogant columnists who don’t understand the value of a good editor.
From there the copy and its illegible editor markings went to a typesetter (AKA, back room slave). It then became the slave’s problem to make sense of the hash that the editor had made of the columnist’s brilliant first draft.
There ensued various other machinations — including a torture chamber known as the paste-up room where the physical newspaper pages were created. It all eventually resulted in the appearance of the columnist’s formerly prize-winning words in print.
We’ve come a long way since then.
Thanks to sophisticated modern technology, that old Smith Corona typewriter has been replaced by the three computers it took just for me to write these words.
God knows what happened after I wrote this mess. But I think it had something to do with Linotype and Johannes Gutenberg.
As for those three computers of mine: This column began with an iPhone where I jotted and spoke the initial column notes. (Imagine that, Johannes: Humans can now speak into handheld devices and see their words appear instantaneously in print!)
Then I turned to my iPad Pro for the bulk of the writing.
Lastly, I used an enormous, obscenely expensive iMac with Retina display to polish these words into diamonds. Or, depending on your perspective, to turn these words directly into hash (thereby eliminating the middle man editor).
And now, dear reader, we have reached a crucial juncture in this column.
Having come up with a marginally interesting lede and premise — and having just about exhausted all my ideas and the time left to produce the column so I can make deadline — I can turn one of the three ways.
(Drum roll, please.)
1. Reminisce for 300 words about what it was like to produce a newspaper back in the Pleistocene Era — when I was actually an editor instead of a lazy, good-for-nothing columnist. That approach would involve lengthy digressions about the IBM Selectric typewriter, Compugraphic headline machines, and working with chain-smoking paste-up artists in a dungeon.
All of which would end in tears, with a heart-rending account of the time I wrote a headline about “breastfeeding” — and it came out in print as a reference to “beast feeding.” To wit: “Beast Feeding Is the Best Way to Ensure Infant Nutrition.”
2. Take a left-hand turn. Instead of boring you with reminiscences about what it was like to produce a newspaper back in the day when you also had to shoot arrows across the moat at marauding dinosaurs, I could run out the clock by making a series of lame remarks about computers and social media.
But since I have decided I need to hang on to those lame remarks about social media for a future column, I could pick Door Number Three:
3. Simply fill the rest of this space with a several score of the truly bizarre emoticons available on my iPad and iPhone.
I’m strongly inclined to pick No. 3.
However, I have just checked with my editor.
He informs me that while it’s technically feasible to reproduce emoticons on this page, it’s not his first choice of how to put his Dartmouth College degree to use.
So in desperation, I have in fact struck upon a fourth option.
I’ve now written nearly enough words to fill the allotted space. So I could just end the column.
Gregory Dennis’s ramblings appear here every other Thursday and, because the paper is smart enough not to make them widely available online, are also sometimes archived on his blog at www.gregdennis.wordpress.com. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org. Twitter: @greengregdennis. Snapchat: Don’t ask.
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