Back in the year 1985 – at least it seems that long ago – someone posted a question on a LinkedIn writing forum asking whether there should be one space or two after a period (full stop for British readers).
At time of writing there had been 283 comments in reply. EVERYONE has an opinion they want to express on this issue. It’s astonishing really – the question surely isn’t fascinating enough to justify such an outpouring of international opinion. The answer is perfectly straightforward. It’s basically this…
For technical/typographical reasons, back in the days of typewriters and traditional printing, two spaces were necessary and desirable. Now we have computers and digital printing, we need only one space.
That’s it. Virtually all the participants in the discussion would agree with that summary. There’s no need for this incessant stream of comments, many of which repeat what has already been said before many times since the original question was posed. Yet still they come, as more people see the question and leap in to answer it.
As the thread got into three figures, one member of the group referred to it as “cruel and unbearable torture”. Another started a side discussion about the number of angels that could dance on the head of a pin – another topic that people have debated endlessly over the course of centuries. Then about two weeks ago some of the residents started getting restless, asking whether the subject had not been exhausted yet and calling for the thread to be put to death.
Cynthia said “Isn’t it time to shoot this topic?” Larry agreed with her, adding: “The horse is dead. Let’s stop beating it.”
Timothy suggested that the carcass should be buried while Maynard wittily remarked that the thread had given him the idea for a new novel. “A man dies,” he wrote, “his corpse is reanimated as a zombie, and he goes on forever – a stumbling hulk with outstretched hands.”
I suggested that Maynard should put some vampires in his story too, then he could sell the screenplay as the latest in the Twilight franchise, The Curse of the Endless Double Space Debate.
Terry then nominated Tim’s comment as the last word on the subject. I betted him it wouldn’t be, and Gary pointed out that it couldn’t be, because not only had I commented subsequently but that he had, also.
“Somebody make it stop!” pleaded Stephen, and I wondered whether anyone who carried on the conversation could be made to carry out a forfeit of some kind?
Cynthia, who’d gone away for a while, presumably thinking the thread had been humanely exterminated in her absence, returned to beg: “PLEASE, SOMEBODY SHOOT THIS TOPIC! There’s nothing new to say that hasn’t been said in the preceding 223 comments.”
This is the interesting thing about it. People whose job involves the written word all seem to have a natural urge to express their opinions and show how knowledgeable they are – and if someone is actively seeking opinions, asking a question that we are able to answer, as in a discussion of this sort, that gives us free rein. The fact that the question has already been answered is almost irrelevant: we will shove our two penn’orth in regardless. I can be as guilty of this as anyone: if I see a thread on which I feel I can contribute some crumb of knowledge, I’m in there.
Maybe it’s because so many of us nowadays work from home, where there’s no-one to talk to – our internet chums become our instant audience, our sounding board, our sparring partners. If we want validation, admiration, even a bit of an argument, we can get it in seconds on internet forums.
In my defence, I wouldn’t usually choose to comment on a topic that could have been adequately resolved and put to bed weeks previously. In the present case, I suggested that surely it was time to talk about something else, to which Cynthia responded that it had been time to talk about something else at least 100 comments ago!
“Is mercy killing permitted in this thread?” enquired Maynard, while Barbara confessed: “At first I thought also enough, enough. But no longer. Now I am with the program.” She compared the thread to a tribal gift that keeps returning, and Terry remarked, philosophically: “It is the eternal wheel. If you miss a comment, don’t worry, for it shall come around again, just in a different guise. Should you depart this earth, take comfort knowing your grandchildren shall be on this thread.”
Maynard confided that as a result of the interminable discussion he had gone into therapy and said I was welcome to join him at the rest home. “The psychiatric staff are working out a treatment plan for what they have classified as “the one space vs. two space syndrome,” he said. I hope he’s having a nice time there: for now, I’m still here, lurking about waiting with baited breath for the next comment on the subject to pop up.
As I write, we’re at 283 comments – if you’re bored as the clock ticks round till the holidays start, and want to watch as the thread winds its inevitable way to the 300 mark and beyond, here’s the link