Larry Tesler: What did you do?

To tell you the truth, I never even heard of Larry Tesler until a few minutes ago when I looked up Cut and Paste in Wikipedia. Tesler, it turns out, is the guy who popularized Cut and Paste for text editing way back in his Xerox days in the mid-seventies.

I’m sure he meant well, and it probably seemed like a good idea at the time. Back in the seventies, after all, not many people used computers to edit text. Many of them were computer programmers, and you could trust them with powerful tools like Cut and Paste because they bore the brunt of the pain from careless use. Also, in the mid-seventies, mice were still confined to laboratories, although perhaps Larry knew about them.

Nearly forty years later, would he uninvent it?

On the face of it, cut and paste looks like a productivity enhancer. As an author, I can copy a piece of text over and over and change it to quickly generate my content. Using cut and paste, I can produce reams of documentation in the blink of an eye.

The problem is that then someone has to read it. In fact many more people will read it than will write it. All those readers will need to differentiate between blocks of text that may only differ subtly.

One of my favorite examples is the block of text that we currently use to document use cases. This is almost a page long, and tends to get copied then changed ever so slightly from one use case to the next. Sometimes the changes are so subtle I find myself flipping back and forth in a kind of Captain Underpants animation to try to discern the differences!

Now, would anyone compose their information so sparsely if they had to rewrite every word? I doubt it: writing like this is the result of cut and paste. If you had to write every word, you’d find a much more compact expression.

More compact documents would mean a lot less waste. Less waste of time for the half dozen readers of the document and less waste of trees for the printers.

I’m all for banning cut and paste, or at least licensing its use. Who’s with me?

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2 Responses to “Larry Tesler: What did you do?”

  1. Arthur G. Says:

    But then where would all my code come from?

    • renegourley Says:

      Well it is true that there was only ever one original program: hello world. It was written by Ada Lovelace and has been translated into thousands of other languages where it has formed the basis of every mainline ever written. Perhaps banning would be too strong, and what we need instead is a licensing system.

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