Sunday, September 18, 2011

Computer as Typewriter

When my Internet connection fails I feel a kind of silence, but it’s not the pleasing kind. It’s the silence of a power failure. We’re used to the all-pervading vibration all of our electric gadgets. It’s the silence of the dead refrigerator. Next I note that the software I use most is absolutely useless. What remains is the functionality that made me buy a computer long ago. The computer is the typewriter I once but dreamt about. Brigitte and I chanced across a new store that sells old objects—old objects and beautiful. We saw two or three old typewriters on display there—and I do mean old. But they were in pristine condition. We stopped before them and reached out reverently to touch raised keys. Memories. The keys activated slender metal armlets; at the end of each was a tiny metallic letter you can feel with the fingertip. But the feel of these old tools is also awkward. They are bulky, primitive—as if, reaching into a kitchen drawer for a knife we’d come up with a stone chipped so that it has a kind of cutting edge.

Back in antiquity, in my BC years, I used to pass a computer store on trips for groceries. It was dark in there as in stores that sell radios, music systems, TV sets. Techy. Finally one day I dared to enter this alien space. I stood unmoving, a little awestruck. I did not understand the things I saw. My rigid silence eventually drew a clerk. Could he help me? I said: “Do you have any of these that come with a typewriter attached?” This my incoherent way of asking if you could get computers to print something—which I had then imagined as requiring little metal armlets hitting a rubber roller moving paper upward line by line.

Later I also discovered that the computer was not too bad a calculator, either. And I even knew its name, a spreadsheet, because I’d earlier used paper spreadsheets, and little electric calculators, to do laboriously what now happened all at once. Change one number and the results of all linked equations changed at once. In a word, my life became much easier. What used to take weeks of effort—like typing a long manuscript—became the work of a couple of days of final proofing. What used to take days of calculation got done in an hour or two.

Then came the Internet. And when it’s not available, and the old uses of the computer are suddenly its only uses, then I feel exactly the same way as we did in the store the other day fingering those heavy, clunky keys. We’ve just experienced such a failure, an outage due to a defective power cord. It extended over two days; for more, see this. Bracing, that, I can tell you. What if the power had also failed? I just realized that I no longer own any kind of typewriter, not even an electric one. And as an emergency measure, I would be tempted to buy one of those antiques we saw—if I could find a source for typewriter ribbons. Instead I’ve just taken an inventory. Thank heaven I still own pencils and even an actual bottle of ink. When the end times come, we shall still write. Courage. We shall overcome.

1 comment:

  1. An interesting post. I must tell you, I've been having a similar experience lately. About a month ago Microsoft did one of it's happy little overnight updates on my operating system. Afterward, I discovered that my M/S Word software no longer recognized my printer... very odd. I did all the things one should do to resolve that, uninstalling and then reinstalling the printer drivers, etc. These things didn't correct the problem.

    Turns out that my very old, no longer supported version of Word, and my old, no longer supported XP operating system (unsupported yet still updated by M/S at night while I sleep... odd) no longer play well together. So, updates will need to be made.

    But, the point is this, for a month now, I have been unable to us Word for any sort of work that I then need to print out. And, somehow, I find that I have not missed it greatly, a bit but not greatly. So much of what I do now is through e-mail... It surprises me to realize this.

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