The Luddite Within

The age of technology has caught us unawares.

The Luddite Within
Note the Yellow Pages (and intended ‘use’).

In the 1980s, the progression from typewriter to word-processing on the computer was a quantum shift. The QWERTY keyboard did not change, but everything else did.

At the time, I used an old manual cast-iron Remington typewriter that I had bought second-hand for $30 from a girl’s school. The secretarial studies classes had upgraded to electric typewriters years before and they were left with a pile of these contraptions clogging up a store room.

I thumped the circular keys downward and the hinged metal arm thwacked against the inked ribbon and a sheet of paper on a rubber roller. At the same time as the key hit the paper, the carriage trundled one space to the left, character by laborious character. Though I was doing a journalism degree, a speed-typist I was not. As far as words per minute, my late into-the-night typing speed could be expressed as, well, leisurely. Thwack, thwack-thwack, thwack. Like the interspersed staccato sound of musketry. The loneliness of the long distance typist.

As the words on the line approached the right-hand edge of the page, I would estimate the space available and if I could fit the next word in, type again (thwack thwack), or think about hyphenating it, then lift my left hand to the lever for the carriage and shove it to the right, and commence a new line. I should add that even then, electric typewriters had been around for thirty years (it’s just that they were so damned expensive).

I did my edits using a bottle of whiteout. Cutting and pasting involved a pair of scissors and a pot of glue. Goodness me, just call me ‘Pop’.

As technology advanced without me, I asked someone for advice on what I should do with my Remington. More than one person said it might make a good boat anchor, and I had to agree. I disposed of it, but now wish I’d kept it for sentimental value. Those old manual machines are worth quite a bit now.

As they say, silently ‘kicking and screaming’, I ventured into Canberra University’s brand new ‘computer lab’ to use one of the Apple Macintosh computers. Personal computers were virtually unheard of then, and apparently, this technology would change the world. I didn’t believe it. I would book a 2xhalf-hour time-slot with the computer admin office. Didn’t seem to me to be a very quick way of getting an assignment done, I thought. Almost as inefficient as going to the library for research.

My ‘return carriage’ routine created some weird looking layout on the page. My habit of hitting the ‘return/enter’ key on the keyboard resulted in huge gaps and crazy spacing. For indents, I used multiple spaces.

I wondered how in the hell the monitor was going to print out the document? It bewildered me. There wasn’t even a place to put a blank sheet of paper in. I thought I would persist with handwritten assignments for some time to come – either that or get a proper typist at work to type up the stories I was writing for my Professional Writing degree. At that time, there were two kinds of keyboard people in the world: those who could type, usually very quickly (they were called ‘typists’), and everyone else. In the workplace, you wrote out what you wanted, and then took it to the typist, to type. Later in the day you’d walk back to her work station and pick up the beautifully typed manuscript or letter usually in duplicate (in a manila folder in her ‘Out-tray’). All typists were female then, except for the odd Government Hansard reporter.

In the newspaper room I worked in, it was a similar story. There were six types of workers: the boss (editor), admin staff (who booked notices and ads), sales people (and these were by far in the majority), journalists (who interviewed using shorthand and wrote), typists (who typed), and the layout people in the back room who set the linotype.

Fast forward a couple decades and most of these jobs don’t exist. Everything, including writing and publishing has been revolutionised – how we write and everything else we do, from the moment our eyes see the light in the morning.

Mark Koehler

*Luddite – definition: a person opposed to increased industrialization or new technology. To resist progress.