After the Fact: Progress isn’t always

My grandfather was the world’s fastest typist, or so I thought when I’d watch him banging out a story on his old upright Royal typewriter, just before deadline at the Santa Fe New Mexican. He used his two index fingers to write and the thumbs for the space bar. I loved poking at those keys when he’d let me play at his desk but it was years before I had “finger oomph” enough to actually hit a key with enough force to lift a letter bar to paper.

By the time I got to high school where typing was a required subject I knew where all of the letters were, but they expected me to use all of my fingers AND my thumbs and to train those neophyte digits to strike only the letters and numbers assigned to them. To complicate matters even more, the keys were BLANK. How was I supposed to know where the “A” was if I couldn’t see the letter? a ; s  l  d  k  f  j  g  h  Otherwise known as “the home row” and the only vowel is the “a” so what you can write with just that one line is severely limited. No Pulitzer Prize material there.

Then you’re expected to move your fingers from “home row” to include the keys above and below and even the numbers at the very top. I have yet to figure out how my friend Juanita Hegler ever learned to type, let alone get up any speed with her unbelievably long fingernails. And they were REAL, not the plastic chips that some women pay unbelievable sums to have glued to their fingers.

About the time I’d learned to change the ribbon on a typewriter without smearing the red and black ink on every proximate surface including my face, some secretary, somewhere, came up with the idea for the disposable ribbon cartridges. Always behind the curve in such matters, I’d marveled at the electric typewriter and the invention of the “ball” instead of occasionally having to unstick keys. After using the rough erasers that would chew a hole in the paper, I thought white-out was the epitome of change in the world.

And now I have a personal computer, a laptop computer and a tablet. Not to mention a cell phone that will let me text instead of talking. Or, to be more accurate, it would let me text if I’d bother to learn. I’d rather write a letter and put a real stamp on it (remember when a real stamp from the real post office cost 3 cents?) and trust it to the postal service for delivery. It probably takes the same amount of time as it would for me to write on my cell phone and send it. And it’d undoubtedly have fewer errors.

Mostly, my computer is a glorified word processor. While I do enjoy keeping “in touch” with some friends on e-mail, we also send cards and letters via US Mail. The advantage to using my computer to write, then print letters, is that I can edit before sending. Oh, and the “spell check” will catch any “typos,” but argues with me over spellings occasionally (it’s not always right). If I’m writing this column or doing homework for my writing class, my pc allows me to write, think a while, write some more, change entire paragraphs, write some more, stick it in a folder and go on to something else and go back whenever I remember what it was that I wanted to say in the first place. The one sin that’s never corrected is my abundant use of “run-on sentences.” Or Margaret Polston’s favorite, the “dangling participle.” 

Altogether, I’m waiting for the “invention” of the personal computer that will tell me what it was that I started out to say in the first place and nudge me along if I stray into uncharted territory.