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Writ upon water

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The time has come when I must make a dreadful confession. For some months now I have been writing these essays upon a word processor. Under the heading of thoughts one wishes never had been expressed is a column of some time past making light fun of the computer revolution, especially as it applies to authors. ''I do not want my words to be processed,'' said I - or something equally sententious - ''I want them to be written, or sung, or pronounced flittingly upon the tongue.'' Well, I suppose one is entitled to change one's mind once in a while!

My son preceded me in the acquisition of a personal computer. I thought it my duty to keep up with him. ''Word-processor speaks to word-processor,'' he wrote me recently, having for years not written me anything at all except in cases of dire emergency. Indeed it seems that family correspondence may be revived and the age of letter-writing restored by an invention which seemed, on the face of it, to be the destroyer of many old practices and values.

Apart from creating a new intimacy between father and son, the common possession of a word-processor is to be commended on the score that the illiterate sire can greatly benefit from the offspring's easy familiarity with the computer age. He was born to it; his brain has been moving to its rhythms since he was a schoolboy. Without his help, provided on extended visits, I think I would somewhere have sunk into the sea of despair.

Once mastered, however, the rewards of the word-processor are immense. My sentences now display themselves in letters of light upon a screen. Yet they are not fixed, as are sentences on paper; they are, as Keats said of his great works , writ upon water. One changes them about, eliminates unnecessary adjectives, makes them more dense and orderly. Then at a secret command given the computer they come out at amazing speed, as permanently set one after the other on white sheets as are the most immortal of literary productions.


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