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The tyranny of the blank page.

H’m. I remember hearing this, um, a long time ago — back in the day when writing was typically done with a massive (meaning REALLY REALLY HEAVY when carried to school — words like ‘portable’ and ‘quiet’ meant something completely different in the 1950s) chunk of metal, cruft and bakelite on mashed up dead trees. (It probably predates that, of course, but I’m, um ‘mature’, not actually antediluvian. All I know is that it was something that Mrs. N sometimes said when she was trying to teach a room full of surly adolescents how to use those blocks of metal for their intended purpose and not for bashing each others heads in. (Not that I ever did that, of course.) Mrs. N was exceptionally nice.)

But back to tyranny and blanks and pages — where exactly did the expression come from? I (naively) thought that it would be easy to find out, but I spent a surprising amount of time with more than one search engine — and failed. Even if I knew, its meaning has certainly changed over time. Does an empty editor window count as a blank page for the purposes of this apothegm?  Apparently at least some people think it does. A fairly typical advice page says that part of the tyranny lies in “watching that cursor blink at you up there at the top of the screen.” (I found it interesting that this piece had no mention of paper anywhere — apparently in some people’s mind the word ‘page‘ is completely divorced from a physical thing.) Three things immediately come to mind:

  • On the machine where I type this, a page is 4k (bytes). So a blank page is 4096… what, exactly? Nulls? Probably not. Deceased bovines? Good chance — you can blame the Great Blue Satan for that. One thing I’m fairly sure of, though — it’s not blanks. H’m — a ‘blank page’ almost certainly contains no blanks — are irony and tyranny related? If so, how? Did Mr. S know? Why didn’t he tell us? And does the page size affect the tyranny? I mean, it wasn’t always 4096 — on the first Real Computer I ever had sitting on my desk a page was 512 bytes. Is 512 less tyrannical than 4096? If so, how much? 8 times? Or is tyranny non-linear? Because non-linear often means ‘more complicated.’
  • I don’t use a blinking cursor — is that important? Is an unblinking box more or less tyrannical? Is colour important? (Mine is green. It goes with my chair.) That shouldn’t affect the actual page (it being in a different country and all) but maybe it does. And he says ‘top of the screen’ — can the tyranny be changed with a few well-chosen escape sequences? That would be unexpected. Clearly, there’s room for some research here.
  • Am I over thinking things again? Because I do that sometimes.

H’m. The page isn’t blank any more. Cool. How did that happen?

I don’t feel any less tyrannized, though.


The Author

Rose Glace is the pseudonym of nobody important.

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