A lamenting Quora questioner posed, “Are indentations in writing becoming a thing of the past?”
It’s not so much the demise of the indent as it is a morph into the use of new technology. Word processing programs were built around the conventions of their predecessors (typewriters). As such, the format held that one space would appear after a comma, colon or semi-colon, two after a period, and four to indent a paragraph. These were in place for ease of legibility and were in part, a descendant of newspaper typefaces, but that’s another story.
Early word processing programs helped to shortcut the indent by allowing use of the tab key to simulate the typewriter’s four spaces. However, the move from word processing for print to writing for the web affects what “looks good” for the reader.
When early HTML code, extra spaces and graphics all met on screen—
well let’s just say the surrounding text looked like
a Taylor Swift fan in a mosh pit at a Machine Head show.
Because of the nature of fonts and their effect on individual letters, the four-space indent of yesteryear never follows an eyeballed line south from paragraph to paragraph. One problem is kerning; the adjustment of the spacing between letters in a given word and font.
Pick your favorite font and take a close look at the following combinations of side-by-side letters placed against the left margin:
No way you can line them up perfectly.
Another culprit is tracking, which is the spacing between words or sections of text. You’ll notice tracking differences most easily when you set your alignment to justified. There each line of text spreads over the width of the page regardless of the number of words or letters in each line.
Don’t despair. When the aliens come and take all of our computers, the indents may rise again.