In Praise Of The 'Puter

Activists of Pakistan People's Party shout slogans as they hold pictures of former prime minister Benazir Bhutto, now exiled, during a demonstration in Lahore, May 5, 2007. President Pervez Musharraf banned Bhutto on Friday from returning to Pakistan for upcoming elections. Arif Ali/AFP/Getty Images

CBS News Sunday Morning Critic John Leonard has some revolutionary views about creativity and the computer age. As far as he's concerned, technology actually has enhanced the writing process.
Mugwumps in the sacred grove of literature complain that the personal computer is bad for writing - that, because of some keyboard logorrhea, books get longer, prose gets sloppier, and nobody can spell anymore.

As an erstwhile magazine editor, I can tell you that nobody's been able to spell since 1968.

As the husband of a high-school teacher, I also know that the prose of her students actually improved since they started writing on computers, submitting drafts to their peers for editing, revising their papers in minutes instead of days, and having fun fiddling.

And as a writer who's published more than 5 million words in 40 years, I have personal and mystical reasons to cherish cyberspace.
The Leonard File
Read past reviews by John Leonard.

Before it was a job, writing was a passion. In high school, I'd jot down an idea, type it up, take it to the print shop, set it on a linotype machine, run off a proof and publish my inky self on a flatbed press.

This tactile process connected brain and word, muscle and idea, hot lead and cool thought. It was crafty. But ever since, one by one, they've stolen my senses. I was there at The New York Times when they junked the linotype machines; got rid of typewriters, carbon paper, copyboys and ashtrays; put up partitions and put down carpets, like a bank.

Nowadays, when we don't write in blue air, copy arrives on disks, to be translated into images, edited into pretend pages, and dream-beamed to New Jersey: no smell, no taste, no feel, no noise. On some ghostly exchange in the information-commodities racket, we are disembodied brokers.

And so when my wife brought home a Macintosh 10 years ago, I declined to bite the Apple. I thought it would abolish me entirely.

Then one morning, after weeks of refusal, I messed with its icons. What happened next was a combination of hypnotherapy and ecstatic Kaballah. A whole day disappeared while my new chum coaxed me to open & close, cut & paste, trash & merge - to change fonts for the glee of it.

Util I chose to save and print, everything was provisional, even random, like a doodle, as if I had been introduced to the music of words all over again, and fell once more in love with language, which is why I'd started scribbling in the first place. Suddenly, writing had been reinfantilized.

Now I ask you to imagine a new millennium where all of us, including mugwumps, sit down at this strange harpsichord and play.


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  • CBSNews.com staff CBSNews.com staff

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