Those who teach must never cease to tabulate

According to the Internet, which can be a wide and wonderful place–which is not to ignore its potential to be a terrifying place and mega-time sink–the last touch typewriters went out of production a few weeks ago with the closure of the last factory that was still making them.  (Or maybe it hasn’t?)

This reminded me of an NPR discussion of the merits of typewriters that I overheard while enjoying a ham sandwich in my grandma’s (tiny!) kitchen once upon a time.  (The link isn’t the exact conversation that I remember, but makes the same points.)  The guest author on the show was saying that it’s smart to use typewriters because then you aren’t distracted by the wide and wonderful Internet (see above), and you can sell your draft pages from your manuscript with your notes and changes and process scrawled all over them, something that isn’t typically available to contemporary computer typists.

It also called to mind a Luddite sci fi writer whose name escapes me at the moment, but who refused to answer e-mails or trade in his typewriter, for various reasons.  I guess if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.

Speaking of broken, when I was in Grade 7/th grade (which was in 1997, arguably the dark ages of fashion and hair cuts, but not exactly the 1920s), I somehow got enrolled in a typing class.  I had taken computer classes at my (tiny!) grammar school, and my astute, forward-thinking, engineering-inclined father had gotten a family computer before it was necessarily cost-effective to do so.  All this to say, I had some mad Oregon Trail skillz.

So, we walk into the typing class on the first day, ready to deal with some pretty old computers, maybe first generation Macintosh units, but instead we find a room full of old-fashioned ribbon-and-correction-ink TYPEWRITERS.  We weren’t even allowed to touch them on the first day – we had to come back with paper, corrective ink slips, and a slew of other supplies before getting to use the machines.  Oh, and we had to get trained on machine maintenance before touching the keys.

Assignments in the course included typing everything perfectly on the first try.  This was hard for me, because I apparently type faster than a typewriter can punch out the letters.  I think I was getting a C+ when my parents (thankfully!) got tired of my complaints / recognized the futility of the class, and put me into a way more hands-on art class.

I’m not knocking Chicago Public Schools, because in their defens/ce, some people in the class didn’t know how to type, so our pedantic mundane exercises were useful for them.  And it’s not like the skills didn’t transfer over to computers.  Plus, a great way to keep people off of Facebook while they’re supposed(ly) to be learning would be to give them a type writer or word processor (although those seem to have gone the way of laser discs).

I would point out, however, that the course content was fairly inane for the late 1990s.  The backspace key is my best friend, and editing is a huge part of how I write and think.  Why you would take fidgety Grade 7/th grade students and stick them in a room with something to do and tell them, most of the time, not to do it before the lesson began… it is just beyond me.

Some of my friends and I still remember the teacher’s instructions: “tabulate… tabulate… John, look straight ahead!”  (I sat next to John, and we were always typing each other notes after we had completed the assignments.)  You could always tell when someone was goofing off because their clicks would be off a beat from everyone else’s.  Telling stories about this class has provided hours of entertainment after the fact, but  makes me less than nostalgic for the old sound of clickety clack, because to me it signals 55 minutes trapped in a room.

That being said, a favo(u)rite pastime of my sisters and I (me?)  has often been to type on the type-writer at my dad’s office.  We have races, accuracy contests, and generally type up the kind of inane content that only looks good in old-fashioned typeface, such as the following:

Dear Sir,

We regret to inform you that your top hat was crushed by a mad horse.  Please advise.

Yours sincerely,

Mr. W. Walsh Peabody, III, LLC, RN, BS, PHD, ESQ, LOL, WTF

My dad would accept our notes and try to make us leave, but we would always drag our feet, trying to punch out one more joke.

A few weeks ago, I went to his office with him and found, to my horror, that the typewriter was GONE!  Everything is done on computers now.  It is a little bittersweet, especially since it’s just another example of how I’m a crotchety old lady who remembers how things used to be, but it’s also interesting to see how the times are a-changin’.  More on that if you take my class!  :-)

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4 Responses to Those who teach must never cease to tabulate

  1. kathleen murphy says:

    Remember Word Munchers and Mavis Beacon? Our first computer was an Apple II that I believe we obtained from Aunt Madonna; it’s provenance before that, I wouldn’t venture to guess. It was absolutely huge and used a black and white TV as a monitor and floppy disks. I think we had a dotmatrix printer attached to it too. Very advanced for the times.

  2. Annette says:

    Imagine the “good old days” when a thesis was typed on a typewriter… No rearranging, no simple corrections… And any typos had to corrected, after the thesis defense, using whiteout and then retyping over the mistake. So it never could look perfect…

    • Our high school science teacher told us that they would have “typing parties” to get perfect copies of theses typed up by a group. Each person would type one error-free page and then change places with someone else at the typing party. Doing things by hand does have its merits, but I also really like not having to do that!

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