I’ve been using Google Docs for several years to do the bulk of my writing work. But not until the last month had I used the collaborative real-time editing feature. And it’s awesome. It’s insanely fun to work on a piece of writing with someone else over the network—watching their cursor-avatar driven in turn by insight and frustration as it flickers amidst the words. With a chat box open, the juggling act becomes even more uncanny and enjoyable—it’s like opening a backchannel on one’s own thoughts. As the other writer taps away, I can comment and cheer him along; sometimes, whole blocks of chat text get picked up and pasted into the main doc.
It’s striking the extent to which it turns writing into a kind of game. It’s like a game of cards, in a way, with each player laying down tricks, matching and blocking, answering and offering, while the hand each player holds—each one’s own books, locally-stored documents and images, the immensity of the internet and the dooryard garden of experience—stays hidden. The written document becomes a playing field, a virtual space made of words. And watching the writing unfold is likely to be more illuminating—and entertaining—than reading the finished text.