Word Perfect was the tool for creating documents when I started using computers. And it was indeed almost perfect. You could control on the blue and white screen the appearance of your printed document in the smallest detail, by placing ‘on’ and ‘off’ tags for mark-up exactly there where you wanted them, when needed nested to infinity. With the coming to power of Word, all that changed. And still, sometimes Word messes so much with the desired lay-out and mark-up that I silently yearned for old WP5.1 until recently.
But indeed, again things are changing. More and more I find myself not making documents that are supposed to be read from paper, but which are meant to be read from a screen. Reading from a screen once was limited by resolution and portability problems, but these are mostly resolved. And when I was in a train, working on yet another document to be screen-read, I suddenly realised there was another limitation to reading from screens: our own mindset to present, and thus lay-out and mark-up, documents in a way that is best fit for paper. And when you’ve moved from Word Perfect to Word, that is exactly what you are doing. Although by now I am used to Word, it sort of gently pushes you to create a to-be-presented-on-paper document. That is what that piece of software is about. And since more and more I am using Power Point nowadays, I think I crossed another boundary. That of the fit-for-paper mindset.
Making documents that are fit-for-screen has repercussions on the way language is used. Because of the boundaries of your screen, and the readability, you need to be more concise. One good way to be concise is to use lists. And they tend to be grammatically monotonous and compacted. And that is often what happens with of the fit-for-screen documents: concise and compacted language is the norm. This usually leads to fit-for-screen documents that are not at all pleasurable reads. But hey, isn’t that what blogs and books should be for?