The Two-Space Debate, and other technology hangovers

Articles have been circulating this week about the ‘controversial’ two-spaces after a period. Many of us picked up the habit somewhere, but typographers are adamant: no, no no! One space between sentences. Period.

Every modern typographer agrees on the one-space rule. It’s one of the canonical rules of the profession, in the same way that waiters know that the salad fork goes to the left of the dinner fork and fashion designers know to put men’s shirt buttons on the right and women’s on the left. Every major style guide—including the Modern Language Association Style Manual and the Chicago Manual of Style—prescribes a single space after a period….

from Slate Technology blog

However, when a remarkable labor-saving device —the manual typewriter— ‘invaded the American workplace’ at the beginning of the 20th century. Typewriters used the same amount of horizontal space for each character, regardless of its width. Monospace typography leaves random patches of open space within lines of type, and adding a second space to the end of the sentence improved readability.

I remember raising up my mother’s home office chair so I could peck at her fascinating spidery old Underwood. It had a faint scent of oil, and a strangely stylish red and black ribbon, and made the most amazing clatter when she used it. The demonic thing vexed me with crossed keys when I tried to use it. Now it’s hard to imagine what a technological marvel it once was.

The ways in which we communicate have evolved to allow us clever primates to converse over vast distance and time. We’re already laughing at the first desktop PCs and their skimpy processors. Keyboards have become virtual now as we poke at our touchscreens. A mother I chatted with yesterday in a grocery line noted her child could type faster than her with only three fingers. He’s been texting since he was two.

And so, we can expect our devices will continue to evolve, all the while our passion for sharing information burns brightly , and the inventiveness with which we pursue this will continue to flower.

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2 comments

  1. I learned to type in the mid-80s in HS on an IBM Selectric with no marked keys. The rule at the time was two spaces after a period. My thumbs automatically perform this action with no input from me. It’s a psycho-motor skill at this point. So, I shall boldly continue to be a ‘Retro’ two-spacer. Deal with it, newbies… ;P

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