Monday, October 10, 2011

“Word-Processing Causes Cancer!” Only research finding that could’ve stopped WYSIWYG Word-Processing in late 1980s?

No, word-processing probably doesn't cause cancer.  But the simplest way to explain the dwindling  research about the educational impact of word-processing in the late 1980s (after MacWrite arrived) was:
 "No one is going to give up word-processing unless you can prove it causes brain cancer." 

When people find a new tool so "insanely" more pleasant and efficient than its predecessors, the need for conclusive research results about its educational benefits/detriments disappears.  And that is what happened following the introduction of the first widely available WYSIWYG [What you see is what you get] word-processor - Apple's MacWrite.  There was no research that definitively demonstrated that word-processing itself significantly helped or harmed students' writing skills or other educational achievements, but the interest in such proof evaporated.
For more on institutional change, innovation, and the role of "rational" data, including research findings, join us online   Oct. 14, 2PM ET for this week's  FridayLive! "Change IS Possible Despite Politics and Counterimplementation Tactics;  Counter-Counterimplementation (CCI) Strategies and the TLT Group’s Fundamental Questions."

Of course, it was still useful in the 1980s - and it's still useful today -
to learn more through careful research, informal observation, and thoughtful analysis about which KINDS of word-processing are more useful/harmful for which PURPOSES for which kinds of USERS for education-related and other activities.

More about evolution and role of "word-processing":
[I still recall the days when most undergraduates were forbidden to use their university's computing center for anything resembling word-processing.  That was considered a frivolous waste of scarce computing cycles.]

"By the late 1970s, the computer industry was promoting a new vision—office automation—of which word processing was just a small part.  The most advanced word processing systems of the early 1980s, such as the famous-in-retrospect Xerox Star, were created not as self-contained applications for stand-alone personal computers but as office automation systems for networked workstations. In the paperless office of the future, a multifunction networked work-station with word processing, email, and graphical and voice capabilities would sit on the desks of every manager and every professional."  - Page 7


"By 1982, Wang Labs had captured just over half the market for 'clustered' word processing systems and faced little competition there. A new version of its Office Information System called Alliance claimed to offer 'data processing, word processing, audio processing, image processing and networking,' though in practice it worked slowly and not all these features materialized....In 1984 it announced its Office integrated software suite to integrate word processing, telephony, and email. That year, as Wang’s stock reached its all-time high, a leading computer industry analyst praised the firm...and suggested that, 'Wang has both management and marketing to go the distance.'  [S.T. McClellan, The Coming Computer Industry Shakeout: Winners, Losers, and Survivors, John Wiley & Sons, 1984, pp. 299-303.] He forecast that by 1990 Wang would be the third largest firm in the computer industry.   By that year it was, in fact, the tenth biggest, but poised for bankruptcy rather than growth." - Page 22

- Above excerpts from "Remembering the Office of the Future:  The Origins of Word Processing and Office Automation," Thomas Haigh, University of Wisconsin, IEEE Annals of the History of Computing, October-December 2006 (vol. 28 no. 4), pp. 6-31, Published by the IEEE Computer Society 1058-6180/06

See also:

  • Rodrigues, D. & Rodrigues, R. (1989). How word processing is changing our teaching: New approaches, new challenges. Computers and Composition, 7(1), 13-25.
  • Snyder, I. (1993). Writing with word processors: A research overview. Review of Educational Research, 35(1), 49-65.
  • Hawisher, G. (1988). Research update: Writing and word processing. Computers and Composition, 5(2), 7-27.
  • "Questions and Issues in Basic Writing & Computing," Pamela Gay, Computers and Composition, 8(3), August 1991, pages 63-81 includes "Survey of Research on College Basic Writers & Word Processing (1984-1990)"
Photo of - "floppy drive for Macintosh Classic - Macintosh System 3 - Mac Draw 1.0 - Mac Write 1.0," Maurizio Zanetti "originally posted to Flickr as readme" 11 March 2007, 12:45:48
By Maurizio Zanetti (originally posted to Flickr as readme) [CC-BY-2.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons
"This image, which was originally posted to, was uploaded to Commons using Flickr upload bot on 07:49, 27 April 2008 (UTC) by Wackymacs (talk). On that date it was licensed under the license below."

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