Visiting the Generation Gap from the Other end

When we get older we sometimes participate in a kind of disconnect without realizing it.  I don’t mean things like politics or music; with a little effort or enthusiasm I can keep up my end enough to carry on a conversation about most things with my grown grandchildren.  But sometimes I have to remind myself that my memories and my opinions are based on a much longer base of experience.  They are looking at the world through a camera lens, while I am zooming across nearly seventy years.

Last week I attended a Meet-Up with a local group of writers I hadn’t met before, and I was pleased when four of our seven turned out to be young – that is to say, twenties?  It gets harder to judge at this end.

Conversation was invigorating.  At times these “kids” reminded me of my old friends who camped outside the store back in the Eighties so they could be the first in line for the latest Piers Anthony or Stephen King or a particular fanzine. It was when the talk moved on to editing manuscripts that I was pulled out of my no doubt condescending amusement.

I brought up the fact that one college-age person who had attended my other group for a short time did her “critiquing” entirely on my punctuation and had laboriously gone through and “corrected” where I had double-spaced after every period at the end of a sentence.  I said that when you’ve been taught and have practiced that double-space for so long, it was damn near impossible to make your thumb hold at one space when your mind has already moved on to the next sentence.  And what was the big deal, anyway?

One of the young women explained to me that one space was insisted on because many people would “pad out” their work in order to make it look longer.  This seemed to make sense; at least it was the first actual explanation I’ve ever received.  So I nodded and conceded that it was a good point.

Then I got to thinking about it.

The fact is that the double-space at the end of a sentence has been the rule since manuscripts were first submitted to publishers in typewritten form rather than long-hand.  In other words, by insisting on one space you are not restricting anyone from doing it differently — it’s the one-space that’s different.  If professors today don’t want padding in their college papers, they might concentrate on overworked themes and drawn-out conclusions rather than focusing on something that has been in place for upwards of a hundred years.  Or simply make the guidelines involve word-count and not pages, just as any publishing house does.

Don’t get me wrong.  I’m not saying we need to stick with the double-spacing after a period.  I really don’t care.  I am saying that there is a reason for it just as there is for double-spacing the lines.  I don’t even want to picture a manuscript submitted with the lines single-spaced. Double-spacing between lines was required because editors (or professors) did not want to strain their eyes trying to read however-many submissions day after day.  From experience I know that sentences can start running together if they are crammed in elbow to elbow, top to tail.  And you need space to write comments, insert corrections, add or delete.  This is incredibly frustrating with a single-line-spaced manuscript, and I can’t think that having only one space between sentences would be any help either.

But rather like the little boy who ran home from school and exclaimed,  “Mom!  Did you know that Paul McCartney was in another band before Wings?”, these younger people were looking at the world through a zoom lens that didn’t extend into the past much further than, possibly, ten years before their birth.  I guess us old folks have to keep remembering that.

By the way, there’s a double space after every sentence in this post. So sue me.