Microsoft Word and Carbonized Scrolls
Some notes & quotes from recent reads:
At its launch in October 1983, this influential software was known as Multi-Tool Word, and not long after, changed to Microsoft Word for Dos. Back then, there were more than 300 word processing programs across multiple platforms. People of a certain age will remember WordStar or WordPerfect, yet in a little over a decade Word eclipsed these rivals. By 1994, Microsoft says it had claimed a 90% share of the word-processing market, making it one of the most successful, well-known software products in history.
While establishing how many people use Word is tricky, recent filings show there are 1.4 billion Windows devices in use each month, and more than 90% of the Fortune 500 use the software. If only a third of those people used Word, it would still be more than the population of North America.
Yet Word’s superpower was using smart, simple design choices to make such features accessible to a global audience, not just techies. Its "What You See is What You Get" (WYSIWYG) design philosophy is now commonplace in software and on the internet. Word introduced line breaks, along with bold and italic fonts on screen. It revolutionised typeset-quality printing, as well as the use of templates. And it was in these templates that Word’s early impact on communication emerged.
Word's spell-checker and grammar features have become subtle arbiters of language, too. Although seemingly trivial, these tools "promote a sense of consistency and correctness", says Wolf, and this uniformity comes at the cost of writing diversity. "Writers, when prompted by the software's automated norms, might unintentionally forsake their unique voices and expressions."
This becomes even more invasive when you look at the role and impact of autocorrect and predictive text. Today, when typing on Word, the software can automatically correct your spelling, and make suggestions for what to write next. These suggestions aren't (yet) based on your personal writing style and tone – they're rule-based. The suggestions you see will be the same as millions of others. Again, this may feel innocuous but it's another example of how Word standardises language by loosely guiding everyone down the same path.
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