Sunday, July 23, 2017

Today's Mostly True Short Story: The Evolution of Typing

F LoBuono
It might be a gross understatement to say that today's technology changes with lightening speed. And, it's been happening for a while now. In fact, as early as 1970, Alvin Toffler, with his ground-breaking novel, Future Shock, predicted that the speed in which technology advances would surpass our ability to absorb it.

And, he was right.

Computers and the corresponding Internet have, for better AND worse, changed our lives forever. Remarkably, they have done so in less than a generation. The greatest changes are readily apparent: access to almost unlimited amounts of information can be had with a stroke on a computer keyboard. However, some of the more subtle changes are almost as impactful but not as noticable.

Here's an example that you probably haven't even thought about.

When I first began high school in the early 70's, the only knowledge I had of computers was of a historical nature. I knew that the first computer was called ENIAC and occupied an entire building. But, outside of a few photos, I had never actually seen one. When we needed to find something out, we went to the Encyclopedia Britannica that my father had purchased for our household. If we needed to write something, we either did it longhand or used a manual typewriter. When we needed to check our spelling we used a dictionary. If we needed to correct our typing we used someting called BIC Wite-Out (tm) to cover our mistakes.

One of the required courses for college bound students at my High School was typing - yes, typing. And, it was a 2 semester course! It also happened to be one of the most useful learning experiences of my high school days. The class was taught by a man known as Dr. Gould. Of course, we all got a kick out of the idea that the "typing teacher" was a doctor. He was not an M.D. but, rather, held a PhD in early childhood education. We wondered why such an educated man would teach something as basic as typing. But, he was an older gentleman and probably taught the class part-time in lieu of full retirement. Be that as it may, he was kind but also firm - assignments meant to increase our typing skills were taken very seriously. And, he taught me a lot!

During my first semester in the class, we all used Underwood manual models. They were made of steel and must have weighed 20 lbs. each! You didn't have to be a weightlifter to hammer the keys, but it sure helped. No wite-out or correct-type was allowed. Dr. Gould wanted us to learn how to do it the right way from the very outset. In the beginning, it was hunt and peck - one finger at a time while looking directly at the keys. However, with Dr. Gould's instruction, we eventually progressed to the proper method of full fingers on the keyboard and eyes on the paper. It worked. From 5-10 words typed/minute to begin, I made it all the way to approximately 30 words/minute. And, believe me, with those old manual clunkers, that's quite and accomplishment.

Because I was fairly successful in the first semester with my typing, for the second I was given what, at the time, was the height of modern technology: an IBM Selectric II electric typewriter to use in class.


The IBM was to the old manual as a Ferrari is to a Chevy - both serve a purpose and will get you from point A to point B. But, one will get you there a hell of a lot faster than the other. Guess which one? With the IBM and Dr. Gould's training, my typing speed increased two-fold to the point where I could comfortably and, most importantly, accurately reach 60 words/minute. As a writer who thinks rapidly, this new found skill proved invaluable! I could commit my thoughts to paper almost as quickly as I could divine them. And, of course, with a college work-load looming that would require copious amounts of paperwork, you can see why simple typing would prove to be so important.

As entropy dictates, time marches on and the ol' IBM has been resigned to the junk heap. Just as the electric typewriter rendered the manual one absolete, the computer has done the same to it. In fact, we don't even call it typing any more - it's word processing. Early computer models using programs like DOS were FAR from perfect but were mostly an improvement over "simple" typewriters. Now, I use the computer for EVERYTHING when it comes to writing: composition, grammar, spelling, and distribution - yes, I process words. And, it's all done at a speed that was inconceivable just 45 years ago. The skill remains the same, but the vehicle has changed - and, it's Ferrari all the way!

Now, on display, next to my laptop computer, I keep on old Underwood typewriter from the 1920's. It reminds of how far we've come but, also, that ultimately, the method of how we write will never change the reason why we write.

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