I'm rereading Foucault's Pendulum; here's just one passage which captures so much of why I love Eco when writing at his best: rather than
There, indiscreet reader: you will never know it, but that half-line hanging in space was actually the beginning of a long sentence that I wrote but the wished I hadn't, wished I hadn't even thought let alone written it, wished that it had never happened. So I pressed a key, and a milky film spread over the fatal and inopportune line, and I pressed DELETE and, whoosh, all gone.Abu, if you haven't already guessed, is the modern word processor, the tool that we all use from day to day, and that has probably effected the process of writing more than we might guess. I'm sure the internet has increased the number of words written globally per second by some figure which has already been estimated (lets call it a squillion words per second), but how many words and thoughts have been lost by the new ability to delete? A colleague was writing recently about digital literary studies, and I asked them whether features of word processing like progress tracking will prove to be the literary critic's tools of the future. If T.S. Eliot were writing today, we would perhaps be able to see more clearly Pound's editorial input, as each edited draft is recorded by Word.
But that's not all. The problem with suicide is that sometimes you jump out the window and then change your ming between the eighth floor and the seventh. "Oh if only I could go back!" Sorry, you can't, too bad. Splat. Abu, on the other hand, is merciful, he grants you the right to change your mind: you can recover your deleted text by pressing RETRIEVE. What a relief! Once I know that I can remember whenever I like, I forget.
I worry that my own writing would be more succesful were there no DELETE key. It is a commonplace to suggest that the arrival of the written word reduced man's oral memory; Eco seems to suggest that the word processor is another step towards record and another step away from memory.