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maxed out -Time travels at the keyboard


One of the ironies of personal computers – and trust me, there are many – has been their impact on the relativity of time. In the Dark Ages, before personal computers, time stretched out like a Saskatchewan highway in the shimmering heat of summer. Time was endless and if we strained our imaginations, we could almost perceive its vanishing point, the point at which nothing mattered because it was so far in the future as to be almost inconceivable.

If I wanted to produce a document in the Dark Ages, I generally wrote it out by hand first. For me, this was not only slow, it was an embarrassing reminder of just how miserably I’d learned and retained what my tight-bunned primary school teachers tried to teach me about penmanship, now, naturally, called penpersonship. Struggling to read my handwriting, my teachers would often smile at me in frustration and say, "Someday you’ll grow up to be a doctor. God help us all."

It was bad enough, in later years, transcribing my own notes with a clunky, portable typewriter and wondering whether something I’d scribbled was a word or doodle. The embarrassment factor became unbearable though when I ultimately found myself hiring someone to type for me and had to admit I too didn’t have a clue about the meaning of some squiggle or another. This was, of course, after they’d asked exactly what a topic like The Rise of Third-Party Movements in American Politics had to do with the study of medicine.

Written efforts before PCs were comprised of two drafts: first and last. Usually one and the same. The idea of moving a paragraph around or adding a sentence or two was preposterous. No one in their right mind would retype a whole paper just because it might have more impact if the introductory paragraph actually came first. Tough noogies. Besides, it was always due exactly 20 minutes after the last word was typed so the whole notion of changing anything was academic.

The only endearing quality of typewriters was the noise they made. The solitary clickety-clack of a cheap portable tapping away in a poorly lit dorm room in the middle of the night was downright mournful. But the thundering roar of a hundred typewriters being hammered furiously in a large office sounded like a herd of agitated cats wearing tap shoes on a tile floor, all trying to escape the ravages of a hungry junkyard dog. And nothing before or since has ever captured the absolute frustration of writing like the angry wail platen gears make when you rip a piece of drivel-laden paper out of a typewriter’s innards. It was almost cathartic.

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