Imagine compiling a publication when you couldn’t cut & paste

Friday, 24 April, 2009

It occurred to me while reading this article about printing a newspaper – a campus newspaper in this instance – before the computer era, was the total absence of the “copy and paste” facility… surely the most under appreciated function computing has given us.

As a first step in producing the Daily Titan, an editor (Gail Rhea) makes up an assignment sheet, using a device known as a manual typewriter. A marvel of mechanical engineering, this gadget was a true EPA Energy Star: it used no electricity whatever. A skilled journalist could write a story at a rate of perhaps 60 words per minute. But none of the original keystrokes could be preserved: someone would have to retype the story again to set it in type, inevitably introducing new typographic errors in the process. By the early 1970s publishers everywhere were beginning to buy video display terminals linked to typesetting computers so writers’ keystrokes could be preserved and copy editing could be done electronically, saving an enormous amount of labor.

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