Today's guest is scholar and author, Mary Beard. Mary is Professor of Classics at Cambridge University, and classics editor at the Times Literary Supplement. She also blogs at A Don's Life, for the TLS. Her latest book is Pompeii: The Life of a Roman Town.
I write at my kitchen table – except for occasional bouts of distraction, when I retreat with my black MacBook up to my study (pretty and quiet, but too far from the domestic action to stay for long).
This MacBook is my faithful friend, which is showing its age (2 years old) and to be honest some signs of abuse. I bash the keys with noisy vengeance, because it makes me feel I’m writing something. But the consequence is that the “s’ has disappeared from the “s” key (or more correctly, the black surface of the key has flaked off, to reveal pure white underneath); and much the same has started to happen to the “d”.
The keyboard in general has the appearance of something that anyone with a sense of hygiene would dread to touch (largely a consequence of the butter and toast crumbs from late-night toast and marmite). And the screen is spattered with god knows what – occasionally wiped off by the husband, when he can stand the sight no more.
But that’s only the day to day wear and tear. About six months ago, it got half a bottle of red wine poured over the screen, which required an emergency trip to the Apple store. At first I resisted entrusting my faithful machine to the teenage “geniuses” that are the Apple repair and advice guys, but they turned out to be just that, and reassuring. They didn’t sneer at the general filth of the keyboard and insisted that it was so much better that the culprit was red not white wine (something about the sugars, apparently).
I haven’t always been so glued to my computer. When I first got one, I was a bit like a monk confronted with the printing press after years and years of hand copying: suspicious and awkward, but prepared to give it a try. For years I would write everything by hand in large pads of paper, and at the end of the day, I would transfer what I had done to the computer… and then (because I didn’t quite believe it existed, or that it would still exist tomorrow) I would print it all out before I went to bed. The same would go for editing. I would make all the alterations on the print out, then transfer it to the machine.
So what happened. How did I move from that to my current state, in which I would find it almost impossible to edit anything on paper, let alone compose it?
The truth is I haven’t a clue. But that’s how technological change happens, I guess. I bet those Renaissance monks who suddenly realised that they honestly preferred a printed book to a hand painted manuscript couldn’t explain what had changed either.