Monday, January 25, 2010

A Trip in the Wayback Machine

You people really should go read the comments from the last post. Apparently, using one's car as a refrigerator is a fairly common practice. Who knew?

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I'm old enough to have learned how to type in junior high on a typewriter. A manual typewriter. Meaning, it didn't plug into anything. Hard to imagine, isn't it? I mean, how did it work if there wasn't any electricity? Did we pedal it or something? I can't recall.

And I remember learning how to use carbon paper in this typewriter (why? didn't we have copy machines back then?) and how to carefully center a title by spacing all the way to the middle and then backspacing half the number of letters (we had time to do this because there was no blogging to suck up half our days). And there was a manual return lever that we had to press to bring the typing carriage back to the beginning of a line.

I swear, I feel as though I made all that up.

We moved up to electric typewriters in 9th grade, which had an automatic return button on the keyboard where your cute little "Enter" key sits now, all you young'uns. It's on my keyboard now, too; but I still call it the "Return" key. Sort of like my parents persist in calling a refrigerator an "icebox."

All this to say that, when we used to type, back in the not-so-good old days of typewriter ribbons and correcting tape, there were moving parts. The carriage of the typewriter traveled back and forth as we worked, and - like any moving part - could cause injury or otherwise wreak havoc. You whippersnappers with your computers don't know how risky it used to be, just trying to put words to paper.

For example, if a comely young coed (humor me, please) were typing on deadline for a term paper and was trying to drink a mug of instant soup at the same time, and absentmindedly placed said mug down in direct line with the moving typewriter carriage....well, let's just say that a dorm room smelling of Lipton's Spring Vegetable has a certain je ne sais quoi that most dorms nowadays - with their oh-so-sterile wifi and their 3G ethernet whatever - sadly lack.


Not that we didn't know from electronics back then. I distinctly remember the popularity of my roommate, a popularity which stemmed from her possession of a hot-air corn popper. You see, this all took place in the Dark Ages, before the existence of microwaveable popcorn bags. Which makes sense, as no one owned a microwave yet anyway.

We did have a TV in our dorm - in the lounge. Picture this - we would all gather together in this lounge and watch the same show. There were no other screens available. No miniature DVD players, no cellphones, no PCs...just that one cathode-ray-tube-in-a-box that had moving pictures on it.

And no remote.

I know! It's like the Flintstones, with their turtle shopping carts.

And now my middle-aged, manually-typing brain cannot remember why I got started on this subject. Help? Anyone?


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35 comments:

  1. LOL, you just described my life! Although it wasn't soup that I spilled in college, it was coffee... and maybe an occasional beer. Guess which one I cried over the most?

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  2. SO FUNNY! :) I feel old, but I feel good about it. :) lol

    My keyboard has a return key. It's a Mac.

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  3. They didn't teach us how to type in junior high. We learned in high school. I don't *think* they plugged in. Remember how you had to really press down on the keys to get them to depress? And then when we (finally) moved to keyboards--and you had to take a special class for that; "computer science," I think they called it, and typing was a prerequisite--the teacher was constantly telling us not to bang the keys so hard, it was a computer.

    Not too long ago I said something in front of my kids about how we didn't have computers in every house when I was a kid, and my 8yo said, "But how did you check your email?!?!?!?!"

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  4. i knocked over countless mugs of hot liquid with that nasty carriage.

    but you know, they now make some rockin' jewelry out of those antique keys ...

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  5. My neighbor growing up had one of those typewriters, we used to love to play with it. My first typewriter was an IBM, though I longed for my Dad's, his was fancy...correction tape and everything.

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  6. I wrote my master's thesis on a Brother electric typewriter with a tiny window above the top row of keys that allowed me to preview the last 12 or 14 characters I typed. This was a Godsend, as every one of those 108 pages had to be typed on watermarked bond paper, with NO WHITE-OUT ALLOWED.

    I think you might have started down this road with the thought of the mobile icebox? (And yes, I use my car as a refrigerator, too -- because I'm the only one with a key. Every morning at the crack of dawn, I can be seen in my pj's and fuzzy zebra slippers, arms laden with the Capri Suns and 100-calorie bags of Mini-Oreos destined for school lunches.)

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  7. LOL - I call that key the return key, I used mimeographs (and made them), there's still a working hot air popper at my mother's house - I am totally an old fart with you.

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  8. I have a Royal typewriter my mother used in the 40s. I learned to type on it early on...but we had the high tech IBM Selectrics in high school. You know, the ones with the BALL. And I too can center a title perfectly. I love you. Thank you for making me feel not so old and alone!

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  9. I wrote my college papers on a typewriter too.

    In high school, I wasn't allowed to take typing, because it was a like a remedial course (ie, something you would never need in a white collar professional job).

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  10. granted we had microwaves and PC's when I was in college, but even still, I feel like the pace of technology has far surpassed what I had back then. I didn't have a cellphone, and nobody I knew did either. I had to transfer computer files on a large, flat diskette. Seems so ancient now! And technology just keeps changing faster and faster. Does this mean my children will be teleporting to class? Who knows!

    (And my Mac has a "return" key, btw! Macs are so cool.)

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  11. lol - too, too funny. It's one thing I like about my generation though, juxtaposed between the old and the new; we can program a DVR but still remember the days of real carbon copies and getting up to change the tv channels.

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  12. My kids know what an electric typewriter is because I had one for them to play with when they were little--I bought it at a garage sale. They had hours and hours of fun with it.

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  13. My mom recently called the enter key the "carriage return"! We had a good laugh over that one.

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  14. I remember signing up for typing in high school because I knew I was going to be a writer. It was optional, though, and many of my friends didn't bother. Typing was called "Office Skills" or something like that, and the teacher thought we were going to be secretaries! (Fat chance...I can't even organize myself)
    On the one hand, I don't miss typewriters at all, but on the other hand, I kind of do.

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  15. I am Waayy to young to remember any of that stuff except for the typewriter and the hot air popper. Which I think makes much better popcorn than the microwave.

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  16. Thank goodness we no longer have typewriters. Speaking only from someone who lives on Spell Check. I hated making mistakes on the darn contraptions that showed my true sence of spelling stupidity. That and I'd always run out of paper because I flubbed up so often.

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  17. And remember reading through a paper you've taken out of the carriage and finding a mistake? And how it was IMPOSSIBLE to align the sheet again to fix it? And writing in the middle of a sentence and getting lost and trying to figure out how to end it so you didn't have to pull out the whole page and retype it all? Oh delete key, you are a wonderous invention.

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  18. Awesome! My pinkies still hurt from trying to press those darn typewriter keys.

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  19. I got a D in typing - the only D I ever got.

    We did have a remote. You would press it and the rotary dial on the TV would slowly rotate around, "cha-chung, cha-chung, cha-chung."

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  20. If it makes you feel any better, I am 31 and know how to use a typewriter - all of my job applications in high school and college were typed on one! I still call the 'Enter' key the 'Return' key as well.

    And my parents had one of those air poppers when we were growing up - I miss the popcorn it made! So much better than the microwaved bags!

    (And I TOTALLY use my car, the garage, and the snowbanks out back during the winter months! Between my 6 gallons of milk and the extra holiday baking, my poor refrigerator can't take it!)

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  21. Add me to the list of Mac users with the retro "return" key on the keyboard. It's probably still more correct to call it that, especially if you're using a word processing program. (I know this because my husband usually has to fix my formatting mistakes in Word docs...I KNOW how to format correctly with a typewriter. He's always going on about "hard returns" and "soft returns" and if I would only leave the paragraph symbol thingie clicked on while I typed, I would see that I was screwing everything up...etc, etc.)

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  22. My kids found my mom's old electric typewriter and they kept asking her where the screen was.

    We got two of those hot air popcorn poppers for wedding gifts. Last month I got one of them out of the storage room and the kids were fascinated. I haven't bought microwave popcorn since then.

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  23. And don't forget, it was considered beneath a CEO bigwig (that is such a good word! All fluff and fake!) to know how to type--that was for mere secretaries. Heh.

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  24. I took typing my junior year in high school, and I often say that it's the most valuable thing I learned in high school. We had electric typewriters, I think.
    My grandmother had a really old typewriter. The font on it was cursive! I always thought that was the coolest thing. She used to mail me letters that she typed on that typewriter. Remember? When we used to mail letters?

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  25. Ditto machine, anyone? Ooooh, the sweet, tangy smell of those violet-printed pages, cool and slightly damp from the ditto fluid? I have no idea how they made those, but I think it was similar to a mimeograph machine. (Remember the exam that was stolen in the movie Animal House? Like those.)

    Those pale purple pages take me back to elementary school, when life was my oyster and everyone who mattered still loved me.

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  26. I remember trying to find scraps of that white out paper to correct my mistakes. I hated everything typewriter-related. I still type with my pointy and middle fingers only. It's my little rebellion.

    Air poppers are now back in vogue, in case you were wondering. I remember popping popcorn on the stove in a pan. We had a stirring gizmo and a mash screen that fit over the pan.

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  27. I had a friend stay w me in NY and he brought an IBM Selectric II with him so he could write. When he moved on he told me he wanted to give me the typewriter and I SWEAR I thought I'd died and gone to heaven.

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  28. I learned on a manual as well. We didn't have summer camps, etc. where I grew up, so my parents sent me to typing school at the tender age of eleven.

    It's the best money they ever spent on me.

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  29. Oh, I grew up typing on those typewriters in Jr High. Finding a mistake after the paper was removed was so frustrating. Getting the little piece of white correction tape to fix it. Ugggg!!! I was a secretary in my 20's at a local college, and upgraded to an IBM electric. We also used the ditto machines. You type on white paper with a carbon underneath, and it makes the letters raised. Then, you take the carbon copy, and run it through the machine to make printed copies. I liked the smell when they were first made. Correcting a mistake on them was a pain too. You had a little tool to scrape off the mistake, and then tear off a little peice of carbon paper, put it where the mistake was, and hope it came out okay. And I must say, it was also messy. You could walk around with a blob of ink on your face, and no one would tell you.

    Debbie

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  30. My college typewriter was an electric model that allowed you to preview each line you typed on an itty-bitty screen before typed onto the paper. This was considered to be quite high-tech and amazing. I do admit to missing the clackety-clack of the typewriter keys. It's not quite the same on a computer ... easier, sure, but with less character.

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  31. Hi, it's H&B over from June's! I actually HAVE a typewriter similar to the one you pictured! And, NO, I didn't learn to type on it! I also learned in high school, on a "manual" but then took a portable (portable my ass, it weighed a ton) electric typewriter to college and earned money typing term papers! And remember before cell phones and there was a pay phone in the hall at the dorm? Ohhh, I am old. Going to snoop through your archives and add you to my Google Reader!

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  32. Bah! I found your blog from over at OhtoBe (I think) and have been obviously enjoying your archives. I am sitting here snickering to myself about the science fiction of the typewriter. I remember writing high school papers on them before the invention of MS Word.

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  33. You're bringing back my college days. I had to borrow other kids' typewriters because I didn't have one. I only took a typing class in high school so I would be able to type papers in college. Came in handy when I entered journalism school, but I'd read a lot of feminist books advising young women NEVER to learn to type, because if you did, any future employer would just shunt you into the secretarial pool, and that would be the end of your ambitions. The feminists of that era never foresaw even CEOs being expected to be able to work a keyboard. (Especially not a little one on a BlackBerry.)

    I recall how the mere ownership of a hot-air popcorn popper in college was a key to popularity--that and having a TV you brought out into the lounge. And hot pots. Everyone wanted a hot pot. You could heat up soup or other food in it.

    And the phones! What a big deal it was if your room actually HAD a phone, even if you had to go over the long-distance bills with your roomie and push them to pay you their share because it was in your name and you'd be on the hook if they didn't. The alternative was using a hall phone, and half the time they didn't even work or were torn out of the wall. Even if they did, you'd have to take your turn on the weekends, when long distance was cheaper, and nobody was shy about letting you know that you'd been on a long time, it was THEIR turn now. Conversational privacy? Forget it!

    And the message boards! Everyone had a message board on their room door, with a marker for writing on it Velcro'ed or hanging from a cord, because if someone came by and you weren't there, they could leave a message saying when they stopped by and ask you to see them when you got back...'cuz there was no other way to do this. Ideally you wanted a board that expressed the personalities of you & your roomie...the one with the clouds & rainbow? The one that looked like a legal pad? The one with the flowers? The one with the unicorn & the hot-air balloons?

    No students had cell phones. None had microwaves in their room because they were too powerful for a dorm electrical system to handle the wattage, besides being too expensive anyway. Few had TVs, and if they did, they picked up only over-the-air stations. I was at one time on a campus so surrounded by mountains that you had to have cable just to pick up network stations, so one guy with a TV put it in the lounge and ponied up for a cable box. The miracle of being able to watch that all-music video channel, MTV! Then we found out that for some reason, the TV was picking up HBO, unpaid for! Did anyone say anything? Of course not! My hometown hadn't even been wired for cable yet.

    When I was a freshman, I didn't have a popcorn popper, but I did have another gizmo that helped me make friends: a tiny Casio calculator that played music. Not only did it include a clock and a perpetual calendar, it had alarms that played two different songs. One was "Tarantella Napoletana" and the other was "Fur Elise." People gathered around me to hear the tunes. We thought this was miraculous. Mind you, you couldn't make calls with this thing or take pictures with it. All it did was calculate, tell you the time, tell you the day of the week any date was on through the year 2099, and play two tinny little tunes. And people would stop other people and say "Listen, you have to hear her calculator."

    I better quit now, before I begin telling stories about walking to class in blinding snowstorms barefoot, uphill both ways, and liking it.

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  34. I love these nostalgia posts.

    I remember word processors and taking a course ...yes, actually paying MONEY to take a course in word processing.

    Oh, sheesh.

    At least it landed me a job in a temp agency.

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  35. LOVE this! I learned to type on a fully manual typewriter, too. In high school. No electric until I was a senior. I was just thinking the other day about the whole backspace-half-the-words-and-spaces-thing for centered titles. HA! HA! HA! And the carriage flinging back?!?! Oh yeah, big-time accident waiting to happen. Great post!

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