Friday, January 22, 2010

The dark ages and manual typewriters

Writing about my school days got me thinking about other events in my life related to writing that happened about the same time. As I started to compose another blog using my smart phone, I thought back to the days before smart phones. We'll refer to those days as the dark ages for the purposes of this post.

So, way back in the dark ages, when I was growing up, we didn't have a computer. Heck, my parents still insist on living in the dark ages and still don't have a computer. (They did get a DVD Player last year. That was a big step for them.)

Before she retired, my mother did have a "laptop" for awhile that was forced upon her by her employer so she could work from home. Laptop was a relative word back then. I suppose it would have fit on someone's lap, if they were 8 feet tall and weighed about 400 pounds. Mom actually needed a hand cart to haul the darned thing around. Because it weighed a ton, she had to ask for help lifting it in and out of the trunk of her car. We lived on the second floor and it was my job to help her up the stairs with it. Before you ask, yes, it really was a two person job.

It was cutting edge technology and no one else I knew had one of these fancy laptops. The rare times when mom brought it home, I practically glued myself to the keyboard, my fingers caressing the keys with awe. It had no hard drive. The operating system ran from one of the two five inch floppy drives. You put in a MS DOS disk in one drive and whatever program you wanted to use in the other.

However, I was so busy playing digdug on the behemoth that I did very little writing. I'm a procrastinator from way back. I input a few of my badly written poems and made a nifty program to pull them up, but that was about it. When her employer made her return it because they were starting to get worker's comp claims from those who had to haul them around, my heart was broken.

My mother was also under the impression that all young ladies needed to learn how to touch type. It was a skill worthy of any self respecting professional woman. With the laptop gone, she was fixated on finding me a replacement. One day, mom rummaged around in the back closet. Sorting through dusty sweaters, files, and knitting supplies, she pulled out a large (and very heavy) black box.

Sitting me down at the kitchen table, she plunked the black box in front of me. The table shook under the weight. A smug look of satisfaction on her face, she instructed me to open it. With trepidation, I unhooked both latches and opened the lid.

Inside was a huge, metal manual typewriter, much like the one in the picture above. The smell of oil from the mechanical arms and ink from the ribbon mingled together to form the unique and inspiring smell that is typewriter. It was the very same typewriter that my mother had used to learn how to type. We were talking the darkest of the dark ages here. (Sorry, mom.)

I ran my fingers across the round keys, testing out this mechanical device that had been placed in front of me. Placing my fingers in the correct typing position, I started to type. Well, I attempted to start. I found that in order to make an actual letter appear on the page, I had to slam my fingers down on each button. Needless to say, my pinkies got a workout.

I typed many a high school paper on that ancient monster. Back then, each typewriter had its own personality, its own little quirks. I quickly came to know each little quirk intimately. And my hands got stronger too. No more asking other people to open jars for me!

By the time I started college, that old typewriter and I were old friends. My mother, however, knew it was time to move on. I was once again sat at the kitchen table and a new device plunked down for my perusal.

It was an electric typewriter. How exciting was that? I'll tell you how exciting it was. It was very exciting. My bruised pinkies were extremely happy. Feeling along the side, I flipped the power on. It whirred to life, making all sorts of clicking and adjusting sounds.

I was thrilled. I believe I spent a whole hour and wasted a whole cartridge playing with the auto-correct feature alone. Until then, I had to use these little rectangle sheets of paper with some sort of pasty white substance on one side. You had to line up the letter you mistyped and, with this mysterious white sheet between the page and the key, type the letter again. This applied that pasty white substance over top and then you backed up and typed the correct letter over top of that. If that didn't work, you typed X's and dashes to cross out the typeo and pretended there wasn't a huge black smudge on your page.

A few days later, a friend invited me over to see her new word processor. It was basically an electric typewriter with a screen the size of my smart phone. I was so jealous. She could actually see what she typed on the screen, before it printed on the paper! It was amazing.

Looking at my smart phone and thinking back to the dark ages made me realize how lucky I am to be in the age of computers. Whereas, I used to use white out on a daily basis, I haven't touched a bottle in five years. I kept a notebook with me where ever I went to jot down ideas and idle thoughts. Now, I just tap a few keys and add thoughts to my smart phone which uploads them to the internet and syncs it all with my computer and website. (No I didn't type this whole thing on my phone and upload it, but I do type a lot of my comments from my phone while I'm out and about.)

Sometimes I do miss my trusty notebook and well worn manual typewriter, but I am very willing to set them aside to make way for all the other fascinating technology that's out in the world today.


zellakate said...

Hehe This was a great post, Elisabeth. I am twenty, so I have never used a typewriter before. I also never learned to touch type, but that's more a matter of laziness. I attempted to learn it, but it just didn't pan out...

I am kind of pathetically old-fashioned in that I can't type up my ideas from the start. I have to write them out in longhand and then type.

Elisabeth said...

I still remember those irritating exercises. Aaaa, ssss, dddd, ffff.

Back then I used a notebook and hand wrote it all out too, but I can't write fast enough to keep up with my thoughts. When I type it out, I get more of my thoughts out before I forget them.

Martha Skye Martin said...

During my college days, I thought people with word processors were "cheating." Me and my IBM Selectric II (another two-person machine) was all *I* needed.

Then in 1992 I learned WordPerfect for DOS. I now have version x4. Tolerate Word as that's "what everybody uses." WP is zillions of times better.

Elisabeth said...

Wordstar for DOS was my first experience. I use Word now only because I am familiar with it. It's what my office uses, therefore, I use it. Makes things simpler if/when I ever take work home.

A.R. Norris said...

My mom bought me an electronic typewriter in 4th grade so I could type my "little stories" (as she called them fondly). When I started middle school (6th grade)...I was amazed at the typing class with all the pretty Apple computers. I still loved my type writer at home...until my mom brought home the Family PC.

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