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6-26-12: Word Processing in Literature
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This conversation originally aired January 10, 2012.
For hundreds of years, writers used pen and ink to put their thoughts to paper. By the late 1800s, they had a new tool: the typewriter...which was replaced by the end of the last century by the word processor.
That technological development has resulted in a sea change in how writing is done. University of Maryland Professor Matthew G. Kirschenbaum is chronicling it in an upcoming book, Track Changes: A Literary History of Word Processing. He joins Nathan for a preview of the book.
Since January, Matt has landed a book contract, and he's got a few other updates. Here's what he told us:
The book is now officially under contract to Harvard University press,
to be published in fall 2013.
In March I visited Microsoft and spent a week researching in their
corporate archives, one of the very few outsiders ever to be granted
On eBay, I obtained the first piece of office equipment ever marketed
by IBM as a "word processor." It weighs 200 pounds, retailed for
$10,000 in 1964, and is called the "Magnetic Tape Selectric
Typewriter." The novelist Len Deighton began using one in the late
I have compiled a spreadsheet with data documenting the first
computers and word processor for around 100 prominent writers.
I have interviewed some two dozen people, on both the literary and
tech side. They include authors Peter Straub and Michael Ondaatje, as
well as locally-based writers Maud Casey and Sarah Blake. On the tech side, I
have interviewed Charles Simonyi (the "father of Word and Excel") and
Seymour Rubenstein (co-founder of Wordstar), among many others.