Having inherited from my wife a laptop, the first I’ve ever owned, I realized in thumbing through some old columns that had not yet made their way to my archivist in Carlsbad, that for me the computer age began 23 years ago, in the summer of 1988. . . .
“Recently, I was carried kicking and screaming into the technological age, which is to say that the manual typewriter whose carriage I had flung back and forth until it cried uncle, and whose ribbons I had pounded into shreds and tatters, was replaced by a computer. Now, instead of carrying on a lover’s quarrel with a cantankerous Royal, I stare, fascinated, as green words march silently by on a screen.”
The relationship is decidedly different. The former was far more physical, more noisy, more confrontational. With the Royal, I knew where I stood — usually at a disadvantage, because there was always something wrong. The ribbon wouldn’t rewind, the spacer would slip, the capital T would become unhinged, o’s and e’s would become obscured by caked ink, elfin screws would pop from parts unknown. I used to say, not with any bitterness, really, that even when all the typewriters in the office were fixed, they were broken. You had to take them warts and all.
The computers are, by contrast, cosmetically perfect, cooler, and more mysterious, inasmuch as, unless you periodically summon up word counts, you never know quite where you are with them. Rather than noisy arguments, silent dialogues are conducted, and since pages don’t roll out from the machine, the interplay can become mesmerizing. The first column I wrote on a computer was twice as long as normal, and was greatly improved by radical surgery that removed a large, unwieldy digression.
“Soon,” I said following a euphoric week at the keyboard, “all I’ll have to do is press ‘Point of View’ and the computer will do my column for me!”
You do get the feeling with a comuter that you’re not the active agent you once were. Perhaps that is because everything is so silent now. Thoughts arrive and are borne away with equal ease, it seems, by the cursor. Sometimes, perversely, whole chunks of text vanish, which is why I’ve learned the hard way to periodically implore the machine to “save.” I never would have groveled that way with my typewriter.
Perhaps computers do deserve some obeisance, as they can make one’s job easier. Second thoughts become first thoughts without having to wad up and toss away a sheet of copy paper, or smudging a line with xxxxxxxxxxxxxxx.
And I find satisfying the rat-a-tat of the printer as it transposes what had been somewhat ethereal into down-to-earth black-and-white, proof positive that I have, indeed, been working.