Classic Writers and Personal Computers

Among important writers of the past who would have welcomed and used personal computers?

Laptop computer surrounded by faces of classic authors

Word processor anyone? Would great writers of the past have welcomed personal computers? (Image: public domain.)

H. G. Wells was a great believer in science and progress. In fact, he was a science teacher until tuberculosis forced him to give up that profession. Always an early riser, and a disciplined writer who believed in regular daily production, he did all his work at a desk in his study. Writing came before all other tasks for the day. I see him as a definite candidate for a well-equipped desktop computer.

Anthony Trollope was also a big believer in things modern and efficient. He worked for the then newly established British postal service and spent a lot of time travelling on trains. So much time, in fact, that he developed, and had made, a simple portable writing desk that rested on his lap. He wrote many of his books while riding the rails. Trollope, therefore, would have been a natural for one of today’s laptop computers.

Another laptop type would be D. H. Lawrence. Like Trollope, he too was able to write anywhere, anytime. He was even capable of getting his work done while sitting on a bench on a railway station platform as trains arrived and departed just feet away, passengers milled round him, and heavy luggage wagons trundled past on iron wheels. He accomplished this remarkable feat of concentration while using pencil and notebook — the original paper kind of notebook, that is!

While not a writer in the literary sense, psychologist Carl Jung, author of many books on his subject, would have welcomed computers warmly; after all, what better tool for the production and display of colourful mandalas? How he would have enjoyed a good fantasy role-playing game with all those archetypal characters. I see him, like H. G. Wells, as a definite candidate for a high-end desktop computer with all the latest graphics capabilities.

Robert Louis Stevenson expended a great deal of his life running from tuberculosis. Believing a warm climate and sea air were necessary for his continued survival, he lived in the south of France, southern California, and on the Pacific island of Upolu in Samoa. He spent quite some time making sea voyages in the tropics, since these seemed most beneficial of all. As someone constantly on the move, I see him as another natural for a laptop. Given his need to send work all the way back to his publishers in Britain, he would certainly have embraced the Internet.

Would some classic writers have rejected computers?

Hermann Hesse would have spurned computers for a certainty. The phonograph and live radio broadcasts were anathema to him. He felt that music had to be in the flesh or not at all. What’s more, even when enjoying a live performance, he became angry if musical ensembles played only a portion of a piece. He wanted all of the movements all of the time. His strong preference for the real physical world, and a sensual love of the unadulterated human touch, would have made digital computer-based writing extremely distasteful to Herr Hesse.

Author: Thomas Cotterill

I am a manic-depressive made philosophical by my long struggle with the disruptive mood disorder, during which I spent sixteen years living as a forest hermit. I write philosophical essays, fantasy, and science fiction. My attempt to integrate creativity, psychology, philosophy, and spirituality imbues everything I write. You will find hundreds of related essays and articles on my blog. I live quietly in British Columbia's scenic Fraser Valley, a beautiful place in which to wax philosophical.

3 thoughts on “Classic Writers and Personal Computers”

  1. Great post. There are writers still going who don’t use computers in fact. Oliver Sacks is one (Man Who Mistook his Wife for a Hat) and it seems to work for him just fine!

  2. Fun to learn about Sacks. As a medical professional, you’d expect him to be quite computer savvy. There are modern holdouts on the literary side as well. American writer John Irving (The World According to Garp, Cider House Rules) is another who spurns the word processor. He prefers those old IBM Selectric typewriters. He has seven of them! Perhaps he plans to cannibalize a few to keep the rest going.

Your thoughts?

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: