The Effect of Personal Computers on Independent Artistic Productions

We used to do things in a very linear, one thing after another fashion. Then we invented computers or more particularly, personal computers. Then, slowly and surely, we learned how to assemble things as a collage of pieces.

Before computers, you sat down to write a term paper, or a story, or a report and you started at the beginning and you wrote until you got to the end. Then, you went back and read what you had written. You looked up words that you were unsure of to see if you spelled them correctly or not. You marked up changes on your draft copy.

Then, when you had made your corrections, you sat down and produced a second draft. It had your changes incorporated. This is the draft that you would show to a friend or maybe a parent to solicit comments. After you collected all the comments you would make another pass at correcting the piece.

Then you would very carefully write or type the final draft. You would measure your margins and take extreme care not to make mistakes. This was the product that you would hand in to the teacher or your publisher as the case might be.

With the advent of the personal computer and word processing software, you could assemble your work in any order you like. If you didn’t get the order of the piece write when you entered the text, it was no problem to cut and paste the pieces of text to different places in your piece.

And spelling was checked as you typed. You still had to be careful of using the right word in the right context. But outright misspelled words were hard to overlook.

This should have raised the bar and made papers better. It seems to have had the opposite effect. People don’t take as much care when they are writing. And even though it is easier to correct and edit a piece until it is highly polished, because the first draft looks good, people are not as likely to spend the time reading what they have written to see if it says what they mean.

I am guilty of this as well but I only recently realized the connection between this dip in writing quality and the rise of word processors. But the written word isn’t the only nonlinear product enabled by computers. Because of computers we can now assemble music piece at a time and reorder and mix it after the fact easily.

Before digital recording became affordable, audio production was done on expensive machines and cut and paste type of nonlinear editing was often accomplished by literally cutting the magnetic tape and splicing it together with cellophane tape. Special effects were often added in line as the original sound was recorded because every time the original recording was copied, it’s quality was degraded in the process.

The other example of nonlinear editing that was enabled by the personal computer was video. Film and later video was painstakingly edited by cutting and splicing original media much like audio tape. When digital quality caught up with film quality, it suddenly became feasible for independent filmmakers (or videographers as the case often is) to make their productions on a fraction of the budget that they used to require.

Strangely enough, I don’t see digital music editors or video editors suffering from the same oversights that I observed the writers making. Perhaps it is because the result of their art is so much more immediately evident where as writers have trouble seeing what they actually wrote because they know what they meant to write.

In any case, many more people have access to professional quality production tools because of the personal computer. It has already gone a long way to leveling the playing field and disrupting the studio production system in music and films. And the number of self published books on Amazon is a testament to how many writers are enabled by their personal computers. If they’d just pay more attention to what they are saying instead of how pretty it looks, we’ll see a lot more successful self published books.

Sweet dreams, don’t forget to tell the ones you love that you love them, and most important of all, be kind.