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Chatterbox: Tick tock tech


There’s a crazy, cool movie called “Blast from the Past” with Sissy Spacek.

In one scene, she’s racing around dictating a shopping list to her son.

“Write that down,” she keeps saying, tapping on the paper as she dictates.

The word “write” in and of itself conjures penmanship and images of clerks using inkwells and wearing bankers’ sleeves. Writing is writing; it’s not printing, but we use the word for anything involving the written word … ah, “written”; I didn’t realize I did that. So our verbiage is based on action as it used to be. As that action morphed, writing came to mean hand-printing, texting, typing, and our modern hieroglyphics of icons and emojis.

A few weeks ago, I was talking with one of my wonderful neighbors – whom I’ve spoken about often. We stumbled upon the topic of how all modern keyboards are the same as any old typewriter, and where and when we had learned to formally type.

In my high school, in my day, our curriculum was based on our pursuit. The academic course, specific to those pursuing college, didn’t include typing. I was just fortunate that I had taken it as an elective in junior high school. My high school’s commercial course most certainly included speed typing whereas, today, even an online school that proudly boasted secretarial skills training, told me typing isn’t offered in any of its 100 courses.

Though I’ll keep looking when the schools reopen, the professionals I did reach are in agreement that, today, typing is something people learn alone. Starting as preschoolers, kids are typing, haphazardly, on small devices. Ergo, it has become personal, random and inexact, working however they manage it.

One would think, with all the computer keyboards out there, it would be more vitally embraced than ever but, now, as we even have computers into which we can verbally dictate, formal typing with all ten fingers is a dying skill, like penmanship. That’s sad for many reasons, including that a typewriter and its keyboard are ingenious.

Typewriters (again, technically, they print, though some computer fonts simulate script) are also technology of great beauty, and the older the better. Honestly, I would collect them if I had the storage to do them justice. Some of the oldest ones look like small pipe organs, but those from the 1940s and 1950s are my favorites. Their hulks, elevated keys and the sounds of their efficiency clacking along is more like music than writers at work. There’s even a song called “The Typewriter Song,” which Jerry Lewis made famous in a skit.

The history of the typewriter as a machine is fascinating. Obviously varying from language to language, the keyboard we use for English is known as the QWERTY board. It was developed after various keyboards were tested. Designed for efficiency based on each single finger’s dexterity and strength, letter placement was slightly coordinated to frequency of use of certain letters in our language. Some letters were also located in certain places to slow proficient typists down, thus preventing the jamming of the keys in the typebar.

My dear neighbor and I agreed that typing has been a great asset in our lives for a great many reasons. It would be a benefit to anyone who possessed the ability to do it well after learning it formally and fulfilling the required number of practice hours to perfect speed. I’m doing it right now and, as an older person, even chose my new computer keyboard for the height of its keys and the sound they make … no gently ticking, flattop laptop for this old gal.

On Sept. 2, 2010, Chatterbox talked about how learning and using cursive on a daily basis had been proven to affect our brain, having psychological and physiological perks, and enhancing hand-eye coordination, making it much more vital than mere penmanship (plus, we should all be able to read old documents).

Now, we talk about typing and that learning to efficiently type, though more important than ever, is just another life skill going down the tubes. Sure, most of our young people thumb text at a speed that is mesmerizing (and will, no doubt, also result in an entire generation of people with carpel tunnel syndrome), but our children are chaotically self-teaching typing skills even though they are still working with multiple fingers on QWERTY keyboards on computers and devices.

Just like cursive, proper keyboard skills are essential, on many levels.

Bing … carriage return.