Wednesday, December 19, 2007


I never properly learned how to type. Lately, the Shift key and my fingers have been at war. I think changing keyboards at home and work have somehow messed with my modified hunt and peck style of typing.

So why is this worthy of blogging today?

Well, think about it. When I was growing up, typing was something that clerical workers did. In the late 1970's, I was attending a college prep school. They still offered a traditional typing class -- the room full of IBM Selectrics and all that. They also offered a computer programming class. Back in the day, I lived 13 miles from my high school and rode the bus every day. In retrospect, probably a bad idea, but I did get a very good education, even if I didn't do much there outside of school hours. There really were no comparable Catholic college prep high schools nearby at the time, so I was stuck. What that meant was that I was very limited in what I could do before and after school. I played football and belonged to a couple clubs, but any after school activities meant that my grandfather had to drive out there to pick me up.

And this is relevant how? Well, back in the day, my parents had a typewriter. It was some sort of old Smith Corona electric beast. I can remember playing with it as a small child. Problem was, if you took typing, you really needed to use the Selectrics. My mother had one at work, but using her primary tool at work to practice wasn't going to happen. So my other option was practicing after school in the typing room. But that would have meant no after school job and an extra trip for grandpa, plus my Dad wasn't enthused about paying for bus service and not using half of it.

Besides, I was going to college... I was going to have a job where typing wasn't required. Or so we thought...

Geek that I am today, why didn't I take a computer class? Well, same reason. The computer at school in 1978 was a PDP-8, which used Teletype interfaces. No monitors. Just a keyboard, a roll of paper, and a punched tape reader. You type the input, the machine would echo back the characters on paper and store the input. You would then run the program. If it worked, you would then generate a punched tape output of the program so that you could load it again. Problem was, the computer room was not much more than a big broom closet with three Teletype machines. There were a couple more in the science labs, but you had to sign up for time on the machines. Yep, after school. And if you couldn't type efficiently, life was going to be miserable.

So I start college in 1980. First thing out of the box, I need to buy... a typewriter. We lug that old Smith Corona to school and I discover the joys of Wite-Out. That old beast let everyone know when you hit the carriage return. We later bought a Brother CE 50 correcting typewriter (which I still have, although I have no idea if you can get ribbon for the thing). Now this is the height of typewriter technology in the 1980's -- changeable Daisywheel and a lift off correcting ribbon that will remove the entire previous line of type.

So the way that I learned to type was purely hunt and peck. Today, I have a better idea of where the keys are, but since I never properly learned how to type, I still type looking at the keyboard and with only a couple of fingers (I am pretty fast, however). It's just that pesky Shift key these days...

One of my challenges in never learning to type properly was speed. That meant that I had to pretty much get it right the first time. What may have been a draft for many people was a finished product for me. That tends to focus the mind a bit. Somehow, I managed to muddle through. It has been helpful today in thinking through what I write before I put fingers on keyboard.

The computer and word processing software was a huge breakthrough for me. Where I once thought that being able to retype one line of a paper was a big deal, I could now insert new thoughts, rearrange paragraphs, and compose whole new sections. My first computer (a Kaypro IV) became part of my life in about 1986. The rest is history...

Was I going to make a point? Oh yeah. Besides explaining random lapses of capitalization in my posts, I wanted to point out a revolution that many people may not have grasped. While typing was offered to many people in the past, and college-bound students often had to learn to type, that skillset often went away once the person entered the working world and had secretarial staff available to type letters. The limited resources also meant that far fewer written records were created. Today, small children are learning to type. They have to. They all have email accounts. It is a given that every child (at least in my neighborhood) has basic keyboarding skills and is able to use a computer before they leave 8th grade. Looking at high school course lists, typing (as such) is rarely taught today. It is generally bundled with a class on using word processing software and basic computing. What this means is that everyone is a typist. And if everyone is a typist, everyone creates and files records. Welcome to full employment for records managers!

If I had only known then, what I know now...


pakurilecz said...

oh come on it didn't take any time at all to find the ribbons for the Brother CE 50!

Douglas said...

Patrick, I have to confess that I've "always been" a typist. My father, way back in the 1960's knew that his college-bound kids would need to learn how to type. He "bribed" us all, and paid a bounty once we could demonstrate that we were able to type at a rate of 25 words per minute, at a minimum.

I saw no point in "typing", but did see the point in collecting the bounty, so I jumped in. As a relative "academic slacker" in my undergraduate years, my ability to procrastinate in writing papers left me with no choice other than to increase my typing speed. Without increased typing speed, there would be no way to submit papers by the deadlines assigned by my instructors.

We're all typists today, but I do look forward to the day when we can "talk" to our computers effectively, can have them loaded with the intelligence necessary to properly format documents, or posts, complete electronic forms, etc. Perhaps then...reality will match what "Scotty" (from Star Trek IV) expected from a 1990s computer that he tried to use.