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Wrong Conclusions About Computers

November 06, 1990

Ah, c'mon, Joe. I think you blew it. You know from a previous letter that I am an admirer of yours, but in your Sept. 18 column, "Maiming the Message Is Only Half the Danger," I think you and the researcher you cited draw the wrong conclusions. I don't doubt the evidence of poorer writing debouching from some computers, but I think that evidence might carry other interpretations than that computers somehow cause bad composition.

For example, I think the evidence is capable of indicating the inverted values of our society, which does not prize and therefore pay for disciplined learning, clear thinking and powerful expression. Thus, the people who do possess the above characteristics often do not have the financial resources to buy the more expensive computers and must make do with typewriters or legal pads.

Alternatively, the computer for those who are in the high school and college population may be just another toy from indulgent parents, along with the sports car in the parking lot and the posh apartment. Indulged students are not notorious for disciplined learning. Those who are in school despite having to work for the privilege or scrape along on a meager parental stipend may know the value of what they're working for and, again, be able to afford only a typewriter or legal pad. This may not be a true alternative to the previous paragraph but only a different facet of it; I can spell marvelously, but I'm no great shakes at logic.

Speaking of spelling, I'd like to point out that the greater incidence of misspellings in the computer output surely is an indication of prior mental disability or laziness. All it takes is running the essay through a spelling checker to obviate this. That same device also catches true typos, transposed letters (I'm slightly dyslexic) and twice-written words, although it will not indicate the improper use of there or their , to or too , as long as they're properly spelled.

And then there are the marvels of the electronic thesaurus.

I'd like to recommend that you seriously consider learning to use a computer. Like me, you already know how to compose and spell. I find that the computer allows me to write much faster than I type or write longhand, so that I am better able to keep up with the flow of thought--that is, when my thoughts are flowing rather than obstructed. I think that my writing is clearer and more elegant, in the best sense of that term, because I am able to go back and easily rewrite, change words, etc. When I typed, I would often forgo non-essential rewrites because I didn't want to retype the whole page for one word.

The radiation danger and consequent risk of cancer is another matter entirely. Now what is the telephone number of my oncologist?

MARK SHIER

Fullerton

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