Monday, August 14, 2006

You've come a long way typist

I can't help thinking how far the word processing has come as I sit here with my laptop on - well my lap. I learnt how to type on a manual typewriter eons ago at Secretarial college. These machines were murder on the hands and for what seemed like months, my wrists were in constant pain. The typewriter pictured is almost like the one which I learnt how to type. Apart from the sheer muscle power needed to use these machines, there were some issues that came with these typewriters.

The typist had to listen out for a bell which warned her when she got close to the edge of the right margin, so that she could turn the carriage return lever, on the left of the typewriter to begin a new line on the paper. A lot of the old typewriters didn't have a separate key for the numbers one (1) or zero(0) so we improvised, using the lowercase letter l for the letter 1, and the uppercase O for the zero.

Oh the fun that was in changing the ribbon!!!!(made up of inked cotton strips which you used until they faded) and in correcting typos. If you threaded the ribbon the wrong way, you spent the whole day with inky fingers and tears of frustration, a ruined ribbon and a whole pile of black papers. Most typewriter ribbons were black; black and red ribbons were for used for special letters. The typewriter eraser made of a hard rubber, which had an abrasive material, and a stiff brush to brush away eraser crumbs. We had to be careful because if erasure debris fell into the typewriter, a build-up could cause the type bars to jam. The hell that was correcting carbon copies was a whole science in itself, and we to use something known as an eraser shield to stop the pressure of erasing on the upper copies from making carbon smudges on the lower copies.

When Liquid Paper, Wite-Out and Tipp-Ex arrived on the scene, it was like a miracle - these were sort of opaque white fast-drying paint which somehow produced a fresh white surface over the error. No more erasers, no more brushes. I could not find a single picture of a typewriter eraser anywhere. No big loss.

Of course these typewriters did not have different fonts, graphics or bold and italics. Words that needed highlighting were underlined. Even now, I cannot bring myself to use Times or neither Courier fonts, I do not underline anything. Reminds me too much of manual typewriters.

Electronic Typewriter (first seen in the early 1980s) changed the face of typing completely. The height of which was the IBM Correcting Selectric. The Selectric, and similar products, incorporated a black/white ribbon and a character memory. It suddenly became easy to make corrections (on the letterhead) with a single keystroke. It was nothing short of a miracle.

Most typists equate the invention of type balls or golf balls to cooking with gas. They replaced the type bars and eliminated “jams" when more than one key was struck at once, which happened when you typed too fast for the old manual and eventually when we were able to change the golf balls, multiple fonts could be be used in a single document.

The old ribbons were later replaced with "carbon film" ribbons that had a dry black or coloured powder on a "once-through" clear plastic tape. These could be used only once but later models used a cartridge that was simple to replace. Unfortunately, the text typed could be easily read from the used ribbon, thus making them unsuitable for typing classified documents. A document reconstructed from a used carbon ribbon was portrayed as the key to solving a crime in an episode of Colombo.

Oh yes, you have come a long way typist. I happily consign manual typewriters to museums and wholeheartedly embrace computers with all the benefits of fonts, spellcheck and graphics.

18 Comments:

Blogger akiey said...

Eeeeh, Uaridi, yours is an amazing & interesting rundown of the development in typing to what we all now take for granted as must know skill in communication.

I was taught typing by a blind friend who used both Braille and the old non-mechanical typewriter, shortly after I 'graduated' to an electric typewriter while still young in mid 95.
Computers have really simplified things...I wonder what's next??

8/15/2006 01:41:00 am  
Blogger egm said...

Yous is indeed the typing journey. I was fortunate that I did get introduced to the mechanical typewriters, so at least I know what you mean when you say you needed biceps to operate them. I wasn't typing anything meaningful, just playing around the few ocassions I was fortunate to be at my mother's office where she was a secretary.

I also played with the electric typewriter once she started using it. But I did not know typing proper until I touched my first computer in 1995 after done with high school, and taking the then obligatory computer classes.

What you term as terror in the ribbons, my brothers and I looked at as toys to play with, much to my mother's chagrin! The stresses we did not put her through.

Thanks for the ode to the typewriter

8/15/2006 02:15:00 am  
Anonymous abby said...

Informative piece. I also learnt how to type on Mom's old typewriter eons ago - rescued it from the dump heap.
I thought I needed a physical recently, and went to see my good ole family doc. He's moved to an upscale building with modern facilities and all, great interiors etc etc, but at the reception I saw the receptionist still using an electronic typewriter, which I remembered from his old office 10 years ago! No computers in sight even in the accountants office..Seems that some pple don't find it as easy to dump the devices as you do :)

8/15/2006 04:02:00 pm  
Blogger Nakeel said...

Hey Auntie and I can disclose that I even tried typing in school coz I thought it was fun to play with the machines and ink myself..
For sure yours is an evovling of writing machinery... I admire u
Hpe u well

8/15/2006 04:49:00 pm  
Blogger Stephen Bess said...

My first published article was written on an old typewriter. I have much respect for them, but I'm also happy that we now have the PC and laptop.

8/16/2006 04:12:00 pm  
Blogger Diane said...

My mom used to force me to practice typing on those old, big and heavy typewriters. I am also grateful to have comfortable PC keyboard now. :)

8/16/2006 05:07:00 pm  
Blogger MugwumpMom said...

Ohmygosh...I remember those! And learning to type correctly, aaaaaaabbbbbbccccc...you get my drift! Not only did I learn typing on an old thing like that, but I learned shorthand too..and today, we have digital recorders instead. Yup, we've come a long way.
Thanks for visiting me tonight. I'll be back.

8/17/2006 05:58:00 am  
Blogger spicebear said...

what i would do without spell check i do not know (or dictionary dot com) whatever did we do before technology?

i used to see the old type writers at my dad's office back in the day and trying to type stuff put me off it until the age of the soft keyboard ie one that didn't hurt my fingers

8/17/2006 08:52:00 am  
Blogger Nyakehu said...

Do you remember the first time we learnt to write I do it was step by step progression from the slate, pencil,to fountain pens dipped in ink. I have never mastered writing with a biro pen. With a way things are going people will forget how to write because of computers, when was the last time you handwrote anything or even received a letter from the post that was not junkmail(generated by computers)?
Nice post by the way

8/17/2006 04:13:00 pm  
Blogger HASH said...

Aha! I have finally tracked you down UARIDI. :)

By the way, I didn't learn to type on a typewriter, but I had to learn to use them anyway. I did most of the word processing on a computer, but the envelopes always had to be done on a typewriter. That is the worst combination ever in my book.

8/18/2006 12:22:00 am  
Blogger Darius said...

My mom typed for most of her work life so that's all very familiar. The typewriter eraser is a real loss to kids though. I mean, they stretched... it was like silly putty.

But yeah, a mistake was such a pain to correct...

8/21/2006 01:42:00 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

A little of tangent...but...
Thank u for the welcome - “todda rabba!”
Ma tov - how good/ pleasant.

toddah rabba can aslo mean “thanks so very much” or “many thanks”
Welcome - “bevakashah.”

8/22/2006 04:08:00 pm  
Anonymous kenyananalyst said...

Sorry it published as anon at first...
A little of tangent...but...
Thank u for the welcome - “todda rabba!”
Ma tov - how good/ pleasant.

toddah rabba can aslo mean “thanks so very much” or “many thanks”
Welcome - “bevakashah.”

8/22/2006 04:09:00 pm  
Blogger Mwenyenchi said...

The ageing, short tempered English lady that taught me typing always said that I had to learn to ride a bicycle before I got onto a piki piki when I complained about my fingers working too hard on the manual typewriter.
That was almost fifteen years ago, I was a teenager and needless to say I didn't listen to her and here I am today typing much slower than I would like.

8/25/2006 12:20:00 am  
Blogger Valedon said...

Oh wow.
This is very educating, esp since no one ever taught me to type

8/25/2006 11:53:00 am  
Blogger Brother Jero (BJ) said...

Yup these things you had to press until the bottom you hear it click, then at lightning speed hit the lever to start a new line. Whatha??? Auntie did you operate these and if you did what was your speed per minute.

The course was secretarial and you had to do shorthand to help with dictation. We have come a long way.

Hope you are well.

8/29/2006 03:41:00 pm  
Blogger Aegeus said...

We sure have come a loooong way away from typing. I understand now its called keying in! Unfortunate since i will continue saying that i have just typed out this comment. Heh heh! Thanks for visiting. Karibu, Rudi tena.

8/30/2006 09:03:00 am  
Anonymous mshairi said...

I love this post!

I remember typing school where at times, all that could be heard was the 'ting' when the carriage reached the end of the page and the 'bang' when you returned it :)

My fingers grew very strong while learning - especially the little finger...

8/31/2006 09:31:00 pm  

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