I’ve done well to keep up. I was born at just the right time to grow with the advances we’ve made. By the time I was in grade school, A-Frame computers had already gone down in size from requiring a warehouse to only requiring a room. By the time I was in high school, desk-top computers were entering businesses and schools.
I learned how to type on an actual typewriter with a return carriage that I had to reach up and pull at the end of every line. I don’t recall any left-handed typewriters, either. The carriage return lever was always on the right. I had to either properly hyphenate on my own or decide that the next word in the sentence should start on a new line down. I remember the keys that always got stuck when I typed faster than the machine could keep up with me. Nod if you remember those metal arms with letters welded at the ends of them so that when you punched the appropriate key for the intended letter, the corresponding arm would fly up and strike the paper, capturing ink from the black ribbon that was woven from one side to the other just in front of the paper, and imprinting that letter permanently onto the paper. Mistakes were just awful to correct, especially if you were making two copies. You had to use a little white eraser to gently rub the paper away, which took the ink with it. Then you had to turn the carriage wheels to get the paper to roll up out of the machine just far enough to peel apart the pages, get behind the carbon paper, and make a second correction on the copy you were making. Then you had to roll it back down and hope your text was lined up correctly. Otherwise, you might as well just start over.
Then typewriters became electronic. The keys didn’t have to be punched so hard, which meant we could type even faster. Mistakes were still time consuming to correct because we had liquid paper, which had to be dabbed and allowed to dry before we could continue. The carbon never adhered to the whited out areas, though, and so it was always best to avoid mistakes if at all possible.
Then typewriters became little computers with digital displays that showed you what you were typing. You could back-space over a mistake, but only if you caught it at the time you made it. When you thought you were done, you hit a special key and the whole thing would type out seemingly on its own. It was only then that you could see the mistakes you hadn’t caught while you were typing out the original.
Making copies started to get a little easier. From mimeographs to actual digital printing, those little white erasers have become extinct.
During my first attempt at college, back in the fall of 1987, I was working part time in a student center where big computer towers were hooked up to small television sets. Everything that ever got accomplished on those for student use only computers always began with a c: prompt.
I kept up. I never knew the techno-babble associated with how the damned thing worked, but I managed to get done what I needed to. I had figured out some of the basic mechanics of it without ever quite learning the technology behind it. I once fixed a dot-matrix printer with the eraser end of a pencil. The folks in my department thought I was a genius.
We went from having computers in big businesses to having a computer in every home. Laptops that were once only used by the jet set are now being used by students at almost all levels of academic participation. And while I’ve still managed to keep up with the mechanics, I have never become technologically inclined.
I have grown to live in an age where two little c’s and a colon has changed in definition from ‘carbon copy’ to ‘courtesy copy’ at the bottom of our letters because the need for actual carbon has virtually disappeared. I’ve long since forgotten how to change a typewriter’s ribbon, and if I had to reach up and physically return a carriage to begin a new line of type I think I’d go mad with the frustration of it. Although I do think I could still configure my own hyphenation points at the end of the lines.
So with all this growth I’ve experienced with technology, with all the mastering of mechanics that I have achieved, why is it I still can’t work my phone?