Editors’ Choice: Technology changes how authors write, but the big impact isn’t on their style

But what can writing tools and writing machines really tell us about writing? Having just published my book “Track Changes” on the literary history of word processing, I found such questions were much on my mind. Every interviewer I spoke with wanted to know how computers had changed literary style. Sometimes they meant style for an individual author; sometimes they seemed to want me to pronounce upon the literary establishment (whatever that is) in its entirety.

Style is at once something tangible – built up out of individual words and phrasings, with the academic specialization of stylometry devoted to its study – and elusive, associated with a writer’s “voice” or the unique “feel” of their prose. Doubtless this is why it fascinates us, and why we’re so concerned to know what computers are doing to it. And yet I think the question is misplaced.

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