Our phys ed teachers taught us ‘no pain, no gain’ but we have since learned that pushing your body through stretches that hurt can cause micro-tears in our muscles and lead to injury. Our careers teachers taught us to start your work path immediately out of school in order to advance regularly and become successful. We have discovered this is an outdated model that does not ring true in today’s gig economy. Our science teachers taught us there are nine planets in the solar system, and though I will always root for that particular protoplanet to be welcomed back in to our gravitational embrace, we are now being told there’s only eight. Our typing teachers taught us to put two spaces after every period. And despite this particular job now being recognised as anachronistic we still hold their lessons to be true.
In the age of typewriters all letters had to be monospaced, which is to say that each letter had to take up exactly the same amount of horizontal room. Otherwise there would be a pileup of letters, and very wide ones like ‘w’ would compete for space with their neighbours and could wind up partly overlaid. Although a technological marvel at the time, typewriters had their limits and resulted in large blocks of text with no discernible breaks to ease the eye through paragraphs. The solution was as clunky as the machines themselves: put two spaces at the end of every sentence. It solved a problem but it was not elegant. But then, typewritten pieces of administrative memorandum are rarely accused of being elegant.
Thankfully hardware technology has moved on and we now have computers. So too has software technology advanced and type designers are able to build in appropriate spacing (kerning) around each letter, symbol, and number in the font. This allows the type to flow more naturally and the reader to more comfortably navigate the page with ease. And of course includes the required space around punctuation. And yet many people persist in, and insist on, banging the space bar twice at the end of each sentence.
In the nineteenth century, which was a dark and inflationary age in typography and type design, many compositors were encouraged to stuff extra space between sentences. Generations of twentieth-century typists were then taught to do the same, by hitting the spacebar twice after every period. Your typing as well as your typesetting will benefit from unlearning this quaint Victorian habit.Robert Bringhurst, Elements of Typographic Style
As we have matured into adulthood many of us have recognised that parts of our education are antiquated. Rarely was it that our teachers were purposefully misguiding us or grasping desperately onto principles they knew to be less than helpful. Many of them were simply and in good faith passing on the knowledge that had been given to them. Our typing teachers, in particular, were taught their craft on typewriters and have carried those practices through to computer usage. But just as we have recognised that stretching is a good idea but is not meant to be agony, that the definition of a successful working life is fluid between generations, and maybe even that Pluto can self-identify as a planet if it damn well wants to, we need to let go of excessive post-punctuation spacing.