(With apologies to David Sedaris and my brother.)
Word-processing software came into its own just as I was figuring out how to construct an undergraduate essay (or a short story, for that matter). I can clearly recall the night my friend and his fancy-pants PC introduced me to WordStar 2.0. Kids these days, with their text-messaging and the Google and whatnot, have no idea what was required for undergraduate essay writing a mere (*cough*) 20 years ago.
First, there was the research: shlepping to the library and digging out the half-dozen available books on your subject matter, the contents of which your prof had no doubt committed to memory. There followed notes, and an outline (I'm sure the kids and I are on the same page, here – right?). When that was done, you wrote out your entire essay by hand. Once you had a suitably impressive sheaf of scrawled paper (scarred with pen-strokes, blots and revisions), you breathed a quick prayer that you'd met the word-count. Then you brewed up a fresh pot of coffee, unpacked the half-tonne "portable typewriter" your father used for his thesis, and got to work. Typing. Carefully. Retracing your steps and whiting out your errors, one freakin' letter at a time. Then typing over that, taking a deep breath, and proceeding with the rest of the paper in the absurd hope this never happened again. And that was just for the little mistakes. If you somehow missed a significant, last-minute revision (not an uncommon occurrence for me), you had to discard all the pages affected by the omitted text, and re-start from where you'd screwed up.
Now here was WordStar. With a feature called Spell-Check (sure, it was American english – but still). "Also," said my friend, "you can erase entire words just by hitting Control/Backspace, or Control/Delete." Entire words! "Or blocks of text, by highlighting, then hitting Delete." Blocks of text!! "There's also a cut-and-paste option..."
You've seen those kids who show up and play with your kids, then when it's time to go home, they don't want to leave your house without their favourite toy? Well...
I was still living at home, and attending the local university. My father had expressed interest in getting a home computer, so he and I hit the road and inspected one fly-by-night-PC-clone-outfit after another, until we were satisfied that Outfit X was the one for our purposes. He signed the cheque for it, we brought it home and I set it up.
The idea was, of course, that I would teach him how to use it. This was very much pre-Windows – the day of the DOS-line. Using the word-processor to type was no problem, but command lines were another matter. I can't remember just what we were trying to get the printer to do, but the image that sticks in my head is of my frustrated father, standing over the printer and pressing the "print" button, applying an ever-increasing amount of pressure on that one crummy button with every failed operation.
That image stays top-of-mind whenever I call my brother to bail me out of some mess I've made with Linux. So long as he's chuckling to himself after hanging up the phone, I'm sure I'm safe. But this leads me to...