9.195 wordprocessing

Humanist (mccarty@phoenix.Princeton.EDU)
Fri, 29 Sep 1995 20:21:26 -0400 (EDT)

Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 9, No. 195.
Center for Electronic Texts in the Humanities (Princeton/Rutgers)

[1] From: "Paul F. Schaffner" <pfs@umich.edu> (33)
Subject: The mature word processor

[2] From: "Peter A. Batke" <BATKE@pucc.Princeton.EDU> (202)
Subject: Demise of wp

Date: Wed, 27 Sep 1995 08:00:20 -0400 (EDT)
From: "Paul F. Schaffner" <pfs@umich.edu>
Subject: The mature word processor

Word processors may be mature, but they are mature in the manner of
the "Swiss army knife," not that of the table fork: the latter, supremely
suited to its function, admits of little improvement; the former,
burdened with too many functions, neither performs any of them well
nor comes close to exhausting the demand for further functions.
For further improvement in word processors they may have to be broken
up into linked modules (whether through proprietary links, system-based
links like OLE, or simply use of a common file format): I have found
myself reverting to the old model of using one program for entering
data, another for editing it, and yet a third for formatting it.

Here are a few features that one looks for in vain combined in a single
word-processing or text-processing program.

o Decent footnote formatting. I am still looking for any program
short of TeX that will allow the kind of run-together footnotes
typical of a critical edition.
o Regular-expression search and replace. It would be very handy to
have the analytical power of Emacs or (better) Perl included in
a word processor.
o SGML support. There is no point in hoping for the kind of native
SGML authoring tools found in stand-alone editors like those by
ArborText and SoftQuad, but some SGML support would be useful:
like that found (again) in Emacs in SGML mode.
o 16-bit characters. I think that we are all looking for at least
partial support of Unicode, and the advantages in ease and
standardization of multilingual computing that that would bring.
o Complete customizability, from sort sequences and keyboard files
to printer drivers and file-naming conventions. Above all, one
looks for customizable levels of transparency, from a mode that
shows every ^Z on screen to one that shows only the printed output.
o Ability to handle large (1 MB+) files easily, quickly, and safely.
This may amount to a desire for a decent 32-bit word processor
(OS/2 in my case).

Paul Schaffner pfs@umich.edu
Middle English Dictionary USERGFNK@UMICHUM

Date: Wed, 27 Sep 95 12:52:30 EDT
From: "Peter A. Batke" <BATKE@pucc.Princeton.EDU>
Subject: Demise of wp

The Aesthetics of Word-Processing in context of a "Prolegomena of
Computer Aesthetics"

[This paper - in slightly different form - was a farewell
to the humanities computing community at Johns Hopkins
it is available in its original at:


I submit this edited version in context of the Wordprocessing
discussion in order to give us a more traditional set of
concepts to consider the notion of the "demise of wp."]

I would like to contribute to the discussion of the "demise
of wp" by exploring the notion that there may well be
"classical" statements of certain computer functions that have
to be winnowed from all sorts of chaff that the market may
bring up. As a wind up, I would like to launch into a
semi-pretentious piece (not fully pretentious since I am aware of
the dangers here) about aesthetics that assumes that we have all
learned our painful lessons on how to get a computer to do things
and now are ready to lavish some creativity on these machines - and
possibly to have them mediate an aesthetic experience.

The notion of a 'computer aesthetic' would be similar to the
notion of a 'religious aesthetic' or a 'aesthetic of nature.'
Since computers have for so long been associated with number-
crunching, we must take a little time to justify the
juxtaposition of computers and the notion of aesthetic. By the
same token, aesthetics has been a preoccupation in the human
realm since the beginning of time; therefore, we must take a
moment to make connections to that discussion and try to carve
out a niche for computers.

The concept of a specific aesthetic, rather than aesthetics in
general is merely a convenient way to declare openly what areas
of artifacts will be selected for study. The idea is to find some
unifying perspective and delve deeply to see what is beautiful,
what is interesting and what is ordinary. For example, in a
religious perspective on aesthetics, the selection criteria for
study would be some depiction of the human arena in
juxtaspostition to God or other religious figures or symbols.

For pragmatic purposes of study, the classification and selection
of groups and subgroups, is essentially the task of connoisseurs.
In every case of a specific aesthetic, however, it is clearly
understood that the judgements that were used to select and
classify must be supplemented by various strategies which can
never be articulated as simply as 'the human figure' or 'the
folds of the Madonna's robe.' At its best, an aesthetic can
serve as a focus for attention; I have attended lectures on
iconography that were intense aesthetic experiences themselves
with a great mixing of intellectual ecstasy into the ineffable
experience of art. I hope to avoid both the trivialization of the
point of an aesthetic through insistence on the primacy of
experience or the obscurantist position that aesthetics is not to
be described. Most aspects of things human attain their greatest
power when they are described to other humans. To rephrase, there
is a clear difference between a sexual encounter and the report
of that encounter whispered to a confidante - however delicious
both experiences may be - and so it is with critics of art and to
a lesser degree with aestheticians. In fact, just about any human
focus can be turned into an aesthetic. Nothing we have seen of
non-western art from the totemic to the highly stylized alter
this need for a pragmatic approach.

Now we are ready to consider the question of a 'computer
aesthetic.' A Prolegomena to a computer aesthetic will have to
separate some radically different, perhaps an infinite number of
different foci. Working in the tradition of 19th century
aesthetics, we will quickly halve the field and hope something
holds: 1. the aesthetic of using a computer and 2. the aesthetic
of representing on the computer. That will hold only for a brief
moment, long enough to divide the 'use' half into 1. creating
algorithms and using algorithms. The 'representation' half we
will divide into textually represented ideas 2. numerically
represented ideas and 3. visually represented artifacts.

Three cuts of a 'computer aesthetic:'


use creating algorithm programming interface
using algorithm user interface

representation text word processing
syntax analysis
numbers spreadsheet
statistical routines
pictures selection and juxtaposition
color and shape separation
clipping, marking and scaling
drawing and painting


Above I am sketching some of the computer applications which
today's computer professionals are trying to master, to improve
and to teach others to use productively in pursuit of whatever
line of work or play - from butcher, baker and candle-stick maker
to software designer and scientist. Since so many of us interact
with computers every day as part of our work, it is inevitable
that some sense of aesthetic - an experience of ineffability -
should attach itself to aspects of computer work. Attaching
explications to that experience is an inevitable development.

The Demise of WP5.1???

For example, a colleague was lamenting his lack of affinity to
the newest release of WordPerfect. Since he fully accepted the
notion that every year or so, a newer and better version of
WordPerfect would come about, he felt at loss to explain the fact
that the newest version seemed to impede his writing process.
Errors were insinuating themselves into texts, and they seemed to
be harder to discover. There is really a perfectly reasonable
explanation for this phenomenon which demands a look at the
aesthetics of wordprocessing both from the 'use' aesthetic and
the 'representation' side. One could argue that WP 5.1 comes
close to a classical statement of wordprocessing. By bringing in
the concept of 'classical' we borrow from a western aesthetics
that differentiates the simple from the ornate and tries to find
a harmony of contrasts in favor of one-sidedness or manieristic
excess. One could say that WP 5.1 balanced full function with a
psychologically sound presentation of letters on a screen that
facilitated writing and made errors easy to spot. Doubling the
function in the new version did not appreciable increase to
original productivity of 51. Adding the function at the expense
of the "psychologically sound presentation of letters on a
screen" in fact makes the experience a potentially negative one.
Since my friend has been conditioned to equate 'new' with
'improved,' he was at a loss to explain the negative experience.

The myth of the ever improving technology, 'the newer the better'
cannot reasonably continue forever. Perhaps in a larger sense,
the myth runs true; yet, when applied too individual programs,
that myth operates within cycles that have an aesthetic
component. Until we can see these cycles clearly, we can borrow
from the aesthetic of oil painting and the associated
connoiseurship. WP 3.0, 4.1 4.2 and 5.0 were attempts to find a
full function within and elegant display. In 5.1, WP found its
classical statement. 30 million copies sold. Yet software
engineers do not stop working any more than post-renaissance
painters stopped painting just because Michelangelo did a chapel.
Subsequent versions lack some of that sparse elegance.

In the newer versions, the additional screen-clutter, the
proportionally spaced letters and the constant movement of the
hand from the keyboard to a mouse seem to interfere with the
classical aesthetic of 51. Of course this is an aesthetic
argument and thus open to challenge. However, to challenge the
argument, the notion of a 'computer aesthetic' will have to be
embraced. Challenging the argument on the basis of trivializing
descriptive analysis is an option of course - but of no interest

We must consider briefly the relation of traditional aesthetic
judgements with our newly discovered computer aesthetic. First of
all we must accept the notion that a software program can have a
'classical moment.' Having accepted that, we would like to expand
the computer aesthetic into realms not necessarily covered by the
historical study of Western art. What does that mean? let us we
pick two graphic artist out of a hat - say Leonardo and some
unfamous but quite accomplished production graphics artist
working for an ad agency in New York. Today's production artist
can create fields of color, shape separation, color changes,
shading, perspective and much more with a few clicks of the mouse
in a matter of seconds. We can see from Leonardo's notebooks that
he also worked fast in sketch mode, but not as fast as a modern
computer artist. Thus we can firmly anchor computer aesthetics in
the production side of representation. Algorithms have replaced
the craftsmanship of the pen. Roughly speaking, the craftsmanship
of the mouse has replaced the craftsmanship of the brush. The
legitimacy of a 'computer aesthetic' is consolidated by the idea
that the end result of an original computer representation will
not necessarily betray its origin on a computer. The actual
artifact will come from an electronic printing device - who can
tell if it is a silk-screen created in a loft in SOHO or a
graphic created on a Macintosh.

ILLUSTRATIONS 1-2-3-4 [These graphics were rather rough
post-modern doodles that were extremely satisfying to produce
but cannot be rendered here.]

The graphics above were done in a series of about a 100 in a few
days in 1986 when graphic technology first came under my fingers.
I present them here less as a testament to my artistic talent but
as an illustration of an emerging 'computer aesthetic.' If these
things were 8ft tall at a trendy gallery, they would be valued
highly. Since they were done on a Macintosh in a few seconds,
they are merely throw always. Thus there is a aesthetic of
craftsmanship which asks as a selection criterium - can anyone do
this? We are very much impressed by the 'completion only after
intense struggle,' and the facility of mouse-clicking seems to
disqualify aesthetic value. For a computer aesthetic to survive
its tender beginnings, we must be less tied to the aesthetic of
hard work. Certainly modern abstract art is still ridiculed in
some circles for its lack of craftsmanship. Mouse-click art will
have the same problem.

The lack of an aesthetic which applies to computer artists is
especially obvious in animated graphics. There is a well-
developed sense in the cinema of short animations. These have
been produced for many years, with awards, well-developed
connoisseurship. Yet animated computer graphics, for example
'Venus and Milo,' done at great expense on high-powered machines
still seem like Donald Duck parodies. I maintain that it is the
lack of an aesthetic applied to computer graphics that separate
the art-short from the animated graphic. Just as in the Madison
Avenue example above, the way out may be for art-short artists to
start using computers merely as a production tool. Again the
result will not betray its origin. At some points the 'computer
aesthetics' will become merely a special articulation of the
general 'short film aesthetics' and may well extend that into yet
unexplored horizons.

Of course, this is just an abstract. Working with renaissance
paintings in computer format opens fascinating perspectives on
new ways of studying our tradition. Alas that will have to wait
for the three volume computer aesthetic which will appear on the
Internet anon. My new e-mail is batke@pucc.princeton.edu. I'd
like to get reactions.