Typewriters, Computers, and Modern Life
February 18, 2000
I have been snarling at my beautiful computer again -- wishing I had
learned to swear properly when I was young. The reason: upgrades.
We are in the electronic age, whether we like it or not. Most of the
time I am thankful that I am alive in it. But sometimes I wish those
computer nerds who crouch over their keyboards and play with software
would straighten up and go out and get some exercise. They write a fine
program that the users like me (somewhere between illiterate and highly
skilled) have learned to understand and feel comfortable with. Then
they have to upgrade it. "Upgrade" is a synonym for "Add a lot of bells
and whistles and make it twice as hard to find the simple stuff you
"Quicken 98" is the latest example. Quicken is the program that helps
millions of us keep track of our finances, and I had one of the early
versions, which worked just fine. But when in mid-January I tried
to print a report and entered the dates, "12/15/99 to 1/15/00, I got
a very firm message that said "Invalid Date." The company graciously
sent me a free upgrade to Quicken 98. It was still not their latest
version, but it fixed the Y2K. Oh yes, Quicken 98 is so much better
than what I had, and has so many more features that it took me two weeks
to find all the things I needed, hidden in all the new good stuff.
Sometimes I wonder about the engineering mind.
Even so I can't even imagine writing anything more than the grocery list
without a computer. And the Internet is the most amazing source of
information that the world has ever known. But like printing press
before it, it is vulnerable. We found that out last week when hackers
won a round. But I suspect that the power of money and government will
win out in the long run. After all, Yahoo and Amazon and the Attorney
General will be pretty tough to beat.
But for all the problems, we still live in the computer age. Don't we?
Lest we think that the computer age has been accepted completely by the
young, I have evidence to the contrary. Recently I had a wonderful long
letter from my grandson Bob, who is a senior at Columbia. It was
written on paper, on a manual typewriter, sent in a hand addressed
envelope with a stamp which made it eligible to travel through the
Postal system hand delivered by Rosie. You don't get many like that
Bob wrote, "I much prefer machine technology to electronic technology,
since it's a nice medium between the utility of scientific advancement
and the satisfaction of manual production. With a typewriter you get a
definite sense of doing real physical work. It's you who are imprinting
the letters on the page....There's a very tangible sense of creating
real physical objects that you don't get with a computer... Plus the
clacking of the typewriter is so soothing, it's hypnotic."
Hmmmmm. That from the grandson of the woman who had one of the first
personal computers in town, and the son of a guy who helps companies
around the world decide how to use computers.
But I'll keep my Mac, thank you. I had an especially interesting
Internet message from halfway around the world last week. Son Dave's
articles on computer methods bring him lots of mail, and he forwarded
one to me. It was from Vladimir Evdakimov, a young Ph. D. from St.
Petersburg, Russia. After complimenting Dave, Vladimir wrote, "I've
read some articles of your mother too, and probably I can find out who
has taught you to write."
You can't get that from a typewriter.
I understand Bob's fascination (temporary, I hope) with the clacking
typewriter. But I had far too many years of writing on one, correcting
mistakes with whiteout, re-copying and all that stuff. So I guess I'll
keep the computer even though there will be more up-grades to fight
with. Gotta practice up on my swearing.