July 21, 2013

Younger generation rediscovering typewriters

Hunt and peck. It applies if you have to search the keyboard for a letter or number before typing. 

I suppose it was the way Englishman Henry Mill typed after he invented what could have been the first typewriter in 1714. It wasn’t until the “modern” configuration came about in the mid-19th century that Christopher Sholes introduced the so-called “QWERTY” layout. 

The phrase “hunt and peck” didn’t appear in print until early in the 20th century.

I learned touch-typing in Moira High School. My teacher was a stickler for perfection and taught from a hard-covered red instruction book, wider than it was tall. I have seen copies in museums.

I practiced diligently. I had already been typing on my dad’s 1920s portable since early childhood. I seem to recall getting a 98 on the typing final. I think I cheated while attempting to erase a mistake. I was found out and severely punished with a two-point deduction. 

It wasn’t long before my fat fingers failed to fly over the keys in the prescribed manner, and I gradually adopted the “Little method,” which involves far fewer fingers — a total of eight. Hey, it works.

Why am I writing about this? Two reasons: first, I cannot lay my hands on that beautifully restored old portable from the 1920s that I had stored in my garage; second, the typewriter is making a massive (well, moderate) comeback. 

When computers gained widespread popularity in the late ‘80s, typewriter use declined quickly. I was able to purchase refurbished IBM 286 computers from Clarkson for $50 apiece, and they revolutionized the speed with which I could type the news for radio, with far fewer mistakes.

Now, young people are discovering the “novelty” of typewriters and are scarfing them up in record numbers. They say they like the visual effect of hearing that loud click and snap as the key is struck. They revel in the fact that they can see the letter, symbol or number instantly imprinted on the paper. They are happy to have no “delete.”

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