What is THAT?! A Look At the Past, Present and Future of Typing.

I’ve been working in the same office for quite some time. Not to date myself but when I began, we used a Selectric Typewriter. I saw it graduate to a memory typewriter, then a word processor, on to a full-fledged PC.

typewriter selectric

A few months ago, for the first time in ten years we had our part-time position open up in our office. Not needing anyone with prior experience, we hired a nineteen-year-old college student and it was my task to train her. This is where I began to wonder Just What Aren’t They Teaching Kids Anymore?

This girl we hired is smart. She grabs hold of the information quickly and doesn’t need to be told twice. To give a little background, I work in a law office. Most of the lower court forms we use, we can complete online, in a revisable pdf format provided by the court. However, there are a few forms that the court has never gotten around to putting on their website, thus requiring that form to be downloaded and completed manually – either by handwriting the information in or {{get ready, take a deep breath}}… we use a typewriter.

Here is how the conversation on that particular subject went:

Me: Now, for this form, it can’t be filled out online.  I’ve got some blank ones in the filing cabinet you can use when you need it.

Her:  So, how do you fill it out?

Me: On the typewriter.

Her: {{blank stare}} What is that?

Me: What’s what?

Her: A typewriter.

Me: {{I started to laugh but then saw how serious she was}} Really?

Okay.  You might think I’m kidding with this one but I’m not. When I took her to the typewriter, I literally had to show her how to feed the paper in and line it all up; answer what is a return; how do you delete. When she started typing on it, I could hear her complaints all the way into my office. It’s so loud! How do you….Arrrghhh. I hate this thing! And, believe me, she DREADS using it.

typewriter earringsIt got me to thinking. Is there such a thing as getting so far ahead of ourselves that we forget to appreciate the basics? Have you ever gone to check out at the store, and you know if the clerk weren’t able to read from the print register the amount of change to be given back, there’d be no getting it unless there were a calculator. This generation has gotten so use to having machines tell them what to do, the basics to do what should be a simple task have been lost. Laziness or acquiescence?

Getting back to the typewriter, I’ve always had a love for it. Typewriter, keyboard, whatever gets the written word down. And, I still like to “journal” in long hand. Wow – I feel like a dinosaur. But, to me, there’s nothing like writing your thoughts down in pen. You can’t hit the backspace on that.

remington-antique-004I went to find out a little history on the typewriter: In case you were wondering, and I know you were, the typewriter was invented in the late 1800’s; Remington (the rifle maker) was the first to market it; and, Mark Twain was the first author to produce a manuscript on a typewriter for his publisher.  Imagine that. I thought that was some pretty cool trivia.

Take a step back in time, if you will, and imagine being an author in the early 20th Century. You have this wonderful invention, a typewriter. No longer do you have to write out your short stories or novels in longhand. You get to do it on a typewriter. But then, there is no correction key. It’s not so easy to change the name of a character 100 pages in to the story or to add in a subplot.  On an edgier side, how many “whodunit” cases were solved by a typewritten note – seeing that the top of an “e” did not fully compress on to the page, or it was missing a portion of a letter. Yea, I might have seen too many old movies, but it was just as classic as hearing the term, “the butler did it.”

How spoiled have we become in using a keyboard on a laptop as I’m doing now or on a PC.

I bet I can give you a little glimpse into the future: in thirty years, no one will know what a keyboard is. Someone, in some office, thirty years from now will be training a new employee and tell them they need to fill a form out using a keyboard and they’ll turn to look at them and say “What is that?” Heard of Dragon Naturally Speaking? It’s taking off. You will not have to use a keyboard to perform basic tasks, much less type your short stories or novels.  You will only speak the commands and the words and they’ll appear on the monitor, the television, whatever is invented to display images.

I’m not complaining. It’s fascinating and I’m glad to be living it and watching it. I’ll still hold on to my old typewriter tucked away in the closet, though, to remember where it all began.

mark twain quote

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12 Responses to What is THAT?! A Look At the Past, Present and Future of Typing.

  1. Great post. A comment on Dragon software: I’m no student of the brain, but from a writer’s practical experience with the powerful software, there must be separate neural pathways and synaptic connections for brain to verbal versus brain to fingertips because when I type my stories the are completely different constructs than when I speak them. Perhaps proof that sooner or later technology must surpass usefulness (for writers, anyway)? I suppose then we start over. In bell-bottoms. 😉

  2. Gail Gentry says:

    Thanks, Rob! I couldn’t agree more 🙂

  3. moonlifgt says:

    very nice post
    waiting the next ^_^

  4. I believe it. The other day, my friend asked me if I had a type writer. I said no, not in like 10 years. She had an application to fill out. It was sent to her in PDF and I had to show her that you can now type directly into the form on PDF. She had no clue. She is not a teenage. haha.

  5. olbigjim says:

    I’m truly an ancient fossil; I learnt typing on an Underwood manual typewriter. I still miss the sound of the keys hitting the platen and the little bell signaling the approach of line’s end. When I graduated to the IBM Selectric, I was pretty sure life could never get better. Look at us now! It’s an exciting time to be alive!

  6. Brenda says:

    I’ve travelled the whole length of the road too. from a manual typewriter to a laptop. I ran a computer for a large company (we had 3 shifts of computer operations) and the damn thing only had 32K and no keyboard, CLEAR, Boot, Boot Hit RUN…three tapedrives eventually we went to 4 tape drives and 4 disk drives, (switching out diskpacks and tapes as the jobs required) I even keypunched on an IBM 126 I think. I still have IBM cards some place in the house, I used them at work for writing grocery lists down. This is such an exiting time if the Hackers would just leave us alone.

    • Gail Gentry says:

      Brenda – I could envision everything you said. The generation now has no idea of how much work it use to take to work a computer or what “DOS” code means. Thanks for chiming in. It was a pleasure to read your comment 😀

  7. I agree with Rob in that oral versus written storytelling uses different parts of the brain. It’s similar to having my daughter practice her spelling words. Sometimes I make her write the words first, and other times I make her spell them aloud first. Reading a book aloud versus silently uses different skills as well; comprehension is much more difficult when reading aloud because you’ve added another chore. All this to say, if Dragon truly takes off, then I am completely screwed, LOLZ!!!

    • Gail Gentry says:

      You and me both. Now I will say that having a smart phone with a voice memo app on it is super because I can reach for it instead of paper and pen in the middle of the night and dictate a story idea into it but that’s as far as I will ever get to using voice for writing. Thanks for the comment!

  8. marcelino guerrero says:

    well, I am not going to tell, but I had one of those IBM Selectric monsters in college. It was lime green though, when and where I stopped lugging it around is lost to history. I actually do miss the sound of it though. And quite frankly made FAR less errors when composing something to print. Great Blog Post!

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