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.