E-text in the humanities: Top ten four contributions


E-text has had a significant impact of the production of text in the Humanities. The many computer programs that have been written to handle e-text, and the enormous number of features that have been built into the programs, have greatly simplified the production of written text, and allow a wider participation in the production of text.

Probably the most important programs for text production are word processors. Word processing programs were some of the first available programs for personal computers. The ease with which users could input, structure, modify, style, and revise text was recognised early in the history of the PC, and has proven to be enormously popular. Microsoft's Word is reportedly used by over five hundred million people around the world, and there are a host of competitor programs such as Word Perfect and AppleWorks that also have a share in the market (Word processor). Desktop publishing programs such as QuarkXpress and Adobe's PageMaker have also simplified the publication of professional-looking materials.

Certainly word processors and desktop publishing software are not necessary for the production of text. Pen and paper still works fine. Typewriters still exist, though they are mostly just collecting dust in the back of office storage cabinets. Word processors are not mandatory tools of the trade, but it is becoming harder and harder to imagine life without them. What I feel is most important about word processors is the ease with which they allow people to interact with text. I, for one, was a fairly reluctant writer in my early academic career at a time before word processors were commercially available. I have a great deal of difficulty with spelling, and don't find it easy to translate the thoughts in my head into words on a page. When I am forced to rely on pen and paper, I find I use a significantly more simplified vocabulary than I would like, because I often can't think how to spell the word I want. With a word processor, I can take a stab at it, and hope the built in spell-check can guide me to the actual spelling.

I am certainly not alone in having some difficulty with the writing process. As a public school teacher I have worked with many hundreds of students, and witnessed the increased comfort they have in their writing when they can work at a computer. Mistakes are corrected with ease, and with no record of their ever having been made. E-text and the programs to handle it, therefore, have allowed a broader population to easily get their ideas out of their heads and into a form that can be shared with others.

E-text programs not only make it easier for people to write, but is starting to modify the way we write as well. E-text production methods not only encourage the writing of text to share with others, but are also encouraging the shared writing of text. Shared authoring is much simpler in an electronic environment. The authors can be working from disparate parts of the world, sending one document back and forth by email for revision until everyone is happy with the outcome. Perhaps one of the most notable examples of shared authoring and the impact it can have can be seen in Wikipedia, the giant encyclopedia made up almost entirely of contributions from thousands of people around the world.