The Benefits of Plain Text

My academic experience is and always has been one laden with a great deal of English courses, most of which involve a similar sort of experience; a class discussion, some lecture, assigned reading, are typical statutes of nearly every English course. Though I certainly take no issue with any of these things – in fact, I tend mostly to enjoy them – English 340 is among the first to challenge this framework. Though we do often engage with this model, the manner with which we do is mostly different, typically involving the use of a few programs native to internet bloggers rather than English students. One such program is a plain text editor called Atom, an asset which perfectly embodies the mission of English 340 as a whole.

Atom is a program which takes the very basis of the study of English – text – and opens to it a back door, that which affords the user a greater degree of control and ease than a word processor might. As a plain text editor, Atom allows the user to type, edit, format, and save bodies of text without the clunkiness inherent in many other word processors. It removes the large task bar/button based system of editing and instead reduces the program to more basic forms, presenting on the home screen only a list of files and space in which those files can be opened. Every other function – bold, italics, bullet points, etc. – is accessible through in-text inputs.

For a new user, Atom is a bit intimidating. At the outset of this semester, I was skeptical that anything would become of our use of Atom. I, a devout user of Google Drive, remained adamant that Atom had little to offer that Google Docs did not, and that the seeming “inconvenience” of Atom would not outmatch the corporate code I’d clung to. I would soon realize, however, that Atom as a program is not designed to yield short term returns. Instead, it requires it’s user to play as much a role in the actual functions of text editing as the program does. Until you’ve gotten used to typing in Atom, it can seem like a bit of a chore: text functions can be difficult to remember, as well as certain file types and what they each denote, but these hiccups remain for only as long as it takes one to commit them to memory.

Now, writing this journal in plain text, I enjoy greater ease and creative freedom than I ever could have had otherwise in using Google Docs. Though I do miss spellcheck and auto-capitalization, the functions of Atom allow me to consider my document as a piece of information, separating aesthetics from content, which allows for each part of the process of creation to be considered as two separate functions. For example, I have typed down to this point on my page. If, at five hundred words, I decide to save my work and record the last time I edited it, I can perform the “ins” function in order to mark in plain text the date and time, a note that will appear in my plain text version of the document but will be omitted from the visual version. Likewise, if I want to bold, italicize, or underline, I can use the “strong” and “em” functions in order bold or access text decoration, respectively. In order to separate text based content from brass tacks instructional content, one can insert a horizontal line or a list, or even sequester that information to a separate page.

Lets add www.google.com
1. Begin a line with “<a href=.”
2. After this, type “www.google.com”
3. Finally, end the line with “</a>” all without spaces.

What I find most interesting about Atom and about plain text editing in general is not the mere possibility that things in Google Docs can be done in plain text also because, although this is true, it does not consider the benefits of a program like Atom. In working with plain text, one does not have to worry about botched formatting in Word or Docs because Atom separates entirely the act of creating text from the formatting of that text. Plain text is created specifically for editing content intended for the internet, creating a universal format that can be translated into any view desired or required by the author or the publisher of the information created. Atom is a program which allows the user to engage with the vast diversity of the internet in a universal manner, subverting the headaches associated with other, more hegemonic but not necessarily better programs designed for the same purpose.

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