Back to the Future II: A 1990s Technological Overview

by Melissa MacAulay

Published at 2014-09-24

Leafing through past issues of The Editorial Eye, I am offered a glimpse of what it might have been like to be an editor in the 1990s. These issues feature regular columns with titles like “Software FYI” and “Untangling the Web.” They are full of reviews of grammar-checking software like Grammatik and CorrecText—even Strunk and White’s electronic version of the Elements of Style—as well as recommendations for search engines like AltaVista and
The latest version of WordPerfect for Windows—as of May 1992—is given a glowing review by an editor whose favourite new features include keystroke shortcuts, such as “<CTRL>-I to turn italics off and on,” and the ability to “save text by simply pressing the Save button on the button bar.” All of this and more for only $495 CDN!    
Although these new technologies were no doubt promising to make the job easier, they meant that editors of the 1990s were also faced with many new and unfamiliar hurdles. Alongside the many software reviews in The Editorial Eye are just as many tips and tricks—often complicated and lengthy—for using them.
Keeping Up With the Times
Discussions abound about configuring software, appreciating the subtle differences between file types, and working efficiently within DOS. Not surprisingly, some of the more traditional readership felt uneasy about taking on these new challenges. As late as 1999, one reader writes in to express her reservations about making a “Web edition” of her company’s newsletter, replete with “cute icons,” “splashy titles,” and links to websites. “I just don’t see our members hopping all over the place to get the information they need,” she says. “They’re not exactly cutting-edge hackers.”
For today’s businesses, eNewsletters are hardly a matter of cutting-edge expertise. But that doesn’t mean that we are in an entirely different situation with respect to tackling new technological hurdles. The similarities between editors today and editors of the 1990s are just as striking as their differences.
Editors today are encouraged to bone up on everything from Adobe InDesign to HTML skills, and to take advantage of software such as eXstyles and PerfectIt (as evidenced by this year’s EAC Conference, whose theme was to “adapt and flourish”).My guess is that there are just as many editors who are Twitter-phobes and XML-phobes today as there were faxophobes then.
The general imperative expressed by The Editorial Eye is one that is just as applicable today as it was when the technological boom was really taking off: avoid “provincialism” and broaden your audience “as you move into a worldwide medium.”
Embrace new ways of doing things, and you’ll be rewarded for your efforts.