Has Microsoft Word affected the way we write

This morning’s Observer column.

Here’s a trick question: who’s produced the most books in the past 30 years? Answer: a guy called Charles Simonyi. Eh? Well, I said it was a trick question. Mr Simonyi, you see, is the chap who created Microsoft Word, which is the word-processing program used by perhaps 95% of all writers currently extant, and although Simonyi didn’t actually write any books himself, the tool he made has definitely affected the ways texts are created. As Marshall McLuhan was fond of saying, we shape our tools and afterwards they shape us.

I write with feeling on the matter. When I started in journalism, I wrote on a manual typewriter. After I’d composed a paragraph, I would look at it, scribble between the lines, cross out words, type some more before eventually tearing the page out of the machine and retyping the para on a fresh sheet. This would go on until my desk was engulfed in a rising tide of scrunched-up balls of paper.

So you can imagine my joy when Mr Simonyi’s program appeared…

The piece has attracted some very thoughtful comments.