Pens and Pencils – When was the last time you wrote something substantive — a letter, a story, a journal entry, etc. — by hand? Could you ever imagine returning to a pre-keyboard era?
I learned to touch type the summer between sixth and seventh grade. Even though the New York city schools, at that point in time — heaven only knows what they teach these days — required every college-bound student to take a year of touch typing, that wasn’t enough for my mother. Typing wasn’t optional for her. She typed to my young eyes at a million words per minute. As far as I could tell, she never made a mistake. No white-out for her!
She believed typing was a necessary life skill, right up there with ironing. We disagreed about the ironing. I hated it. Still hate it. I’ve actually thrown away clothing rather than iron it. Oddly, though, while I was serious about collecting vintage and antique dolls, I spent days repairing, hand-washing, then ironing tiny, frilly dresses, coats, and hats. Life is full of paradox.
I wouldn’t iron for myself. When I married Garry, there was a codicil to our vows: for better or worse, but no ironing. Fortunately, Garry irons well and sometimes, if I grovel and prostrate myself, he will iron something for me.
After I learned touch typing, I never wrote anything by hand. Except notes on cards. Those could hardly be called substantive. Lists. I write lists by hand. On paper. I have a little notebook I carry with me in which I jot down information I might need when I don’t have a computer nearby. Almost everything in my world lives somewhere on my computer or worse, online, on somebody else’s server. A single day without WiFi — or worse, minus electricity — and my world would grind to a full stop.
I admit it. I’m hooked.
I don’t have a handwriting anymore. I make weird errors when I write by hand, even weirder than the mistakes I make on a keyboard. I omit words and letters. I don’t leave space between words, sentences, and paragraphs. My writing slants up or downhill. As often as not, I get to the edge of the page in the middle of a word. Not the kind of place where a hyphen can be inserted. My words begin crawling up (or down) what ought to be a margin.
Fifty years ago, I forswore writing by hand. I doubt I could go back to writing by hand even if I wanted to, even if, by some horrible magical, nuclear, dystopian, catastrophic end-of-the-world scenario, all keyboards disappeared.
There’s history here. I fell madly, passionately in love with computers the moment I met one for the first time. It was 1982. Although I had earlier encountered word processors and of course, the big computer at my alma mater, this was my first personal, face-to-face with one of the Big Guys. Of course now, anyone’s smart phone can do more than that giant mainframe could do … but back then, it was a miracle.
We never forget that moment of first love, right? I had begun work with the development team of DB-1 at the Weizmann Institute in Rehovot, Israel. I was given a work station networked with the university’s main frame. When my finger caressed those keys, my mind screamed the message:
THIS IS A BETTER WAY.
I’ve never looked back. I never will.