Thursday, June 21, 2012

Technology Old and New

I’m old enough that when I took typing in high school, we had only one electric typewriter for the whole class. We had to take turns practicing on it. I was thrilled—I could type seventy words a minute! And when I typed up the school newspaper to copy on the mimeograph machine, I “justified” by typing slashes at the end of each line, then retyped everything with extra spaces in each sentence.

When I graduated from college and went to work for a newspaper, we still used manual typewriters. We literally “cut” with a pair of scissors and “pasted” with glue when we needed to revise a story. I remember coming back from an evening meeting I had covered, and as I typed a few paragraphs, the copy editor would come to my desk and rip the page out of my typewriter to take it to the “backshop” to get it set so they could meet the deadline.

After a few years, the newspaper went “high-tech.” The company purchased a few computers, which resided on wheeled carts. Since there were not enough for each reporter, we had to take turns. If you were frantically writing to meet a deadline, you’d better not get up to use the bathroom or you very well could come back to find that someone had “stolen” your computer.

After the steep “learning curve,” I grew accustomed to being able to “cut and paste” and change words as I went. So much easier than the old way.

Then I left my job at the newspaper and decided to write freelance. Oh my! I had to go back to the old manual typewriter! I hadn’t realized how hard those keys were to punch. How much time it took to cut and paste with scissors and glue. And, of course, this was before e-mail, so everything had to be sent out with SASEs by snail mail.

Technology is changing the world so fast these days, I feel like I’m getting whiplash just watching the changes whiz by. But there is no way I’d ever go back to writing longhand or punching the manual, cutting and pasting the old-fashioned way.

How much have we grown to rely on technology? Just have the electricity go out some evening. What do I do now? I can’t read, I can’t use the computer, I can’t even cook!

Well, thank goodness for my iPhone.

A native Montanan, Heidi M. Thomas now lives in Northwest Washington. Her first novel, Cowgirl Dreams, is based on her grandmother, and the sequel, Follow the Dream, has recently won the national WILLA Award. Heidi has a degree in journalism, a certificate in fiction writing, and is a member of Northwest Independent Editors Guild. She teaches writing and edits, blogs, and is working on the next books in her “Dare to Dream” series.

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  1. Yikes, I'm old enough to first learn typing on a manual typewriter. Also remember when we got our first Selectric typewriter at work and what a miracle it was!

    Morgan Mandel

  2. Heidi I loved reading this. It gave me a renewed appreciation for the rate at which change is whipping toward us.

    It brings to mind the year 1994, when the freelancers at my paper were kicked off the company computers because of a dispute over our independent contractor status. If we wanted to continue our job, they said, we had to buy PCs and special software called White Knight so we could file from home.

    As a result, this was also the year I learned that writing would always require a greater financial investment than payoff—this computer cost more than my annual earnings from the paper. Yet I soon couldn't imagine life without it.

  3. Wonderful post! It made me stop and think back to all the tech phases I've been thru from typewriter to word processor to today. And oh boy, do I now remember my Gannett News reporting days writing my stories in DOS. I recall two awful times where my story "disappeared" and I missed the 5pm deadline. Eek! I am thankful we have come this far in tech, being a writer its most useful but then we are expected to do more and faster too.

  4. Whiplash, indeed! I'm applying liniment to my neck on a regular basis.

    I grumble a lot about innovations that seem to pop out of the woodwork (aka Internet) weekly -- and I have yet to master (or even explore) Twitter or Pinterest -- yet I would not want to go back to the good old days of the 80s when I used a Radio Shack computer that ran TRS DOS (my son called it Trash Dos) as its operating system. Ouch! I got another twinge in my neck just thinking about it.

  5. My family still has a functioning Atari system! When the power goes out, I bring out the hurricane lamps and knit by firelight. Doesn't stop me from reaching for the computer mouse at times, though. ;)

  6. We were in the same class, weren't we? :D Today, I'm on my Kindle Fire checking out the Facebook comments for my school reunion. Who ever would have imagined this kind of technology even 20 years ago, much less 40+. Oops, I just almost gave away my age. Hahaha.

  7. I know, this really gives away our ages, doesn't it. It's mind-boggling to me to think that kids today have never been without a computer or microwave or cell phone! And I was six when we got electricity, ten when we got a telephone (party line), 12 when we got a TV, and in high school when we finally installed an indoor bathroom. I must be REALLY old!! LOL (we were just 20 years behind the times in eastern MT)

  8. Well, I know I'm younger than the rest of you lovely ladies of BRP, but even I learnt to type on a manual typewriter, at good old "Finishing School" (remember those? or is that purely a European invention?). Day-to-day we used ribbon and, gasp, had to throw away (no recycling in those days) a sheet of paper if we made more than three errors. For exams we got to use carbon ribbon and a white out tape - bliss!


The Blood-Red Pencil is a blog focusing on editing and writing advice.