Let our journalists help you make sense of the noise: Subscribe to the Mother Jones Daily newsletter and get a recap of news that matters.


Randall Stross is not looking forward to the blessed union of LinkedIn and Microsoft Office. In particular, he’s not happy with what he saw in a presentation explaining how the merger will benefit all of mankind:

I’m not a Microsoft shareholder myself, but I am one of the 1.2 billion users of Microsoft Office, and I was baffled to see my workhorse word-processing software show up in the rationale for this deal. Mr. Nadella supplied one explanatory clue in an email that he sent to Microsoft employees. “This combination will make it possible for new experiences,” he wrote, such as “Office suggesting an expert to connect with via LinkedIn to help with a task you’re trying to complete.”

….My version of Word, a relatively recent one, is not that different from the original, born in software’s Pleistocene epoch. It isn’t networked to my friends, family and professional contacts, and that’s the point. Writing on Word may be the only time I spend on my computer in which I can keep the endless distractions in the networked world out of sight….Matthew G. Kirschenbaum, an associate professor of English at the University of Maryland and author of “Track Changes: A Literary History of Word Processing,” said the move reflected a failure to understand what writers need. “Most of the most innovative writing tools now on the market position themselves precisely as distraction-free platforms,” he said.

Elon Musk once called Stross a “huge douchebag…and an idiot,” which makes me like him already. But he’s way off base here. Let’s dispense with the obvious first: If this feature ever shows up in Microsoft Word, you’ll be able to turn it off. It will take ten seconds. Not every new feature is the next Clippy, for chrissake.

I could just stop there, but what’s the fun in that? Here’s the bigger problem: Stross is a historian. Kirschenbaum is an English professor. They are the kind of people who think of writing as a profound, solitary activity. They lose themselves in their writing. They want to be left alone. They want to concentrate on the blank screen.

In other words, they represent about 1 percent of real-world writers. Kirschenbaum is right that there are lots of “innovative” writing tools these days that compete with each other to be the most distraction free. You can read about them here. Or if, like me, you think this is one of the most idiotic hipsterish trends to hit computers in a long time, you can read about it here. Either way, their market share is as minimal as their interfaces. Most people aren’t such delicate flowers that a small array of icons and menus destroys their ability to pound out a few paragraphs.

More to the point, Stross needs to acknowledge that Word is designed for ordinary business folks who write data sheets, emails, memos, and other ephemera. They don’t care too much about distraction-free writing because the whole concept is a joke: the average workplace is full of distractions all the time, from every possible direction. What’s more, your average office drone writes about stuff related to their business and their industry. Getting hints about who might help with an estimate for the size of the left-handed screwdriver market probably sounds pretty handy.

If integration with LinkedIn ever makes it to Microsoft Word, I myself will turn it off faster than you can say “WTF is this?” And then I’ll get back to work, none the worse for wear. Millions of others, perhaps, will try it out and find it useful. Who knows? Away from the ivory tower, it might turn out to be a handy thing.

IT'S NOT THAT WE'RE SCREWED WITHOUT TRUMP:

"It's that we're screwed with or without him if we can't show the public that what we do matters for the long term," writes Mother Jones CEO Monika Bauerlein as she kicks off our drive to raise $350,000 in donations from readers by July 17.

This is a big one for us. It's our first time asking for an outpouring of support since screams of FAKE NEWS and so much of what Trump stood for made everything we do so visceral. Like most newsrooms, we face incredibly hard budget realities, and it's unnerving needing to raise big money when traffic is down.

So, as we ask you to consider supporting our team's journalism, we thought we'd slow down and check in about where Mother Jones is and where we're going after the chaotic last several years. This comparatively slow moment is also an urgent one for Mother Jones: You can read more in "Slow News Is Good News," and if you're able to, please support our team's hard-hitting journalism and help us reach our big $350,000 goal with a donation today.

payment methods

IT'S NOT THAT WE'RE SCREWED WITHOUT TRUMP:

"It's that we're screwed with or without him if we can't show the public that what we do matters for the long term," writes Mother Jones CEO Monika Bauerlein as she kicks off our drive to raise $350,000 in donations from readers by July 17.

This is a big one for us. So, as we ask you to consider supporting our team's journalism, we thought we'd slow down and check in about where Mother Jones is and where we're going after the chaotic last several years. This comparatively slow moment is also an urgent one for Mother Jones: You can read more in "Slow News Is Good News," and if you're able to, please support our team's hard-hitting journalism and help us reach our big $350,000 goal with a donation today.

payment methods

We Recommend

Latest

Sign up for our free newsletter

Subscribe to the Mother Jones Daily to have our top stories delivered directly to your inbox.

Get our award-winning magazine

Save big on a full year of investigations, ideas, and insights.

Subscribe

Support our journalism

Help Mother Jones' reporters dig deep with a tax-deductible donation.

Donate