When we think about revolutions in writing, we tend to think about the act of writing itself, that is, the shift from forming letters on a page, to tapping keys and having the letters appear on a screen. It’s a huge difference, of course, and not all positive.
There’s something immensely cosy and romantic about the idea of scratching away with a nib pen by the light of a candle; at least I think so. There’s also some part of the ability to spell which dwells in the hand: it’s easier to spell a word correctly when you drift from one letter to the next in classic joined-up writing.
And yet the speed! The facility for correcting mistakes! We’ve come so far in these departments.
But we tend to overlook what I consider an even more dramatic change: in methods of duplicating.
It started with armies of scribes sitting with bowed heads, writing away with aching wrists as they listening to a text being read out, and woe betide them if they fell behind due to having to erase a mistake with pumice stone.
Then we had printing (a revolution in itself, that), then carbon copies (which are still going, see the BBC article and video), photocopying, scanning, and simplest of all, just pressing the button ‘Copy’ followed by ‘Paste’ to duplicate a document on the same electronic device or another electronic device.
It’s almost too easy. In fact it’s so much too easy that there’s a whole industry in stealing people’s intellectual property.
There’s something to be said for old, safe techniques like making carbon copies, whether it be for restaurant orders, or credit card numbers, or parking tickets. You can keep track of all the copies if you want to, and you don’t get the feeling that you’ve posted your literary gems through a hole into the winds of the universe.