NaPoWriMo Day 17 has invited us to write a poem about old technology. If you are technically kind of (b)old, then you have seen lots of technology upgrade and go. But the one that I feel is the most radical and historically revolutionary is the typewriter. I began my typing career as a callow fifteen year old learning how to improve my typing skills in a summer school class. I had had my own portable typewriter since I was twelve, a Confirmation gift if memory is correct. By the time I had an office job manual typewriters were making way for electric typewriters, the ever so jittery IBM Selectrics where you had to learn to virtually coo at the the keys instead of bullying them like some of the crankier manual models. I graduated to word processing early on with the first PCs and never looked back. Wow! You can easily correct your mistakes. For someone who was fast, but not always accurate, this was such a wheeze!
So my poem is a salute to the QWERTY keyboard and the manual typewriter in the days when you used five fingers instead of the opposable thumb to tap on a keyboard.
QWERTY Before the tippety- tap of laptop, the clackety-clack of a Remington manual or a Smith Corona. Before the middle classes worked in pods, the typist girls swam in Esther Williams’ pools. Before, three generations were schooled in Typing and Notehand classes, where more imaginative teachers urged you to carriage return in time with the William Tell Overture after weeks practicing lines about quick dogs and brown cows dozing in pastures. Ribbons were primed with ink. You made a mess of a manicure changing the tape. One’s missteps were corrected with white liquid Typex in the days before auto correct, spell check and Grammarly. We memorised our QWERTY, studiously. You got to know your machine, how some left their Ts and F’s uncapped whether you hammered the keys or gently tapped. A typewriter had personality and originality. Its’ letter press was as unique as a thumbprint. With fingers strengthened on piano etudes a young girl could pack a portable and go forth into the world. She didn’t have to be a shop girl, a maid, telephonist or nurse. She could go and try her luck in the world of commerce, or publishing, or even reporting the news. She might drink cocktails and eat oysters such was her big new world. She just needed to be fast, accurate, literate, the master of QWERTY, and then she could have her own apartment in the city, and finally be the mistress of her own destiny. We made triplicate carbon paper copies for posterity. Copyright © Bee Smith, 2020. All rights reserved.