123456789 Qwerty Crescent,
13 August 2013
Scottish Review Readers
The Scottish Review
Dear Scottish Review Reader,
I know this may come as a shock. Receiving a typed letter could catapult you into a time warp if you are of a certain age. In this world ‘courier’ was the only font we knew and even the knowledge that there were different fonts was reserved for specialists in the printing trade. You can even see and feel the indentation where the metal keys hammered the paper. I have been returning to the good old days of the manual typewriter when my fancy takes me. Portable, with ribbons (still) available in black only or red and black (for those insistent final demands), carbon paper for keeping copies and typex for those (rare) errors, my fingers are currently being pushed to old limits. On a whim I popped into Relics my local second-hand shop and there they were, loads of them. Portable typewriters, piled up, dusty, rejected, hidden in their handy carrying cases. “They are very popular with the students,”, said Stephen the owner, “they like them because they are ‘old school’, you can still get ribbons. Here’s some paper, just try them out till you find one that works.”. Adler, Remington… and there was my own little beauty – a Silver Reed 250 portable complete with white carrying case, barely used, its ribbon unmarked. What were the stories behind this pile of rejected technology? Were they gifts to retiring typists, owned by aspiring writers, cast aside in the rush to word processing, left in attics, gathering dust at the back of cupboards? Not so long ago, they were reviled as old fashioned, slow copying machines out of step with the shiny new world of digital storage, cutting, pasting, selecting and copying – a world where words were now processed not typed. Where did the typist’s skills go? I know, I used to be one. For starters they were de-gendered (is that a real word?). We now put our own words on the page, do the copying, writing and correspondence by ourselves. We learned to think as we type; word processing has hanged the way we think when we write. Errors are no longer a tragedy requiring a new sheet of paper, corrections are made instantly, spelling errors wiped out and perfection attained. Everyone could be fast, touch typing vanished and people deserted the home keys to develop their own two-fingered techniques.
It is that transformation in converting thought into writing that has really come home to me as I brush up my rusty, previously prize-winning typing speed (ok it was only the third year prize for Office Practice). Typewriters really were copying machines with hand-written drafts the first outing of a letter, a story, an essay or a whole book. Woody Allen still writes everything on a typewriter he purchased in his teens. Richard Burton’s diaries began as reams of typed pages, hole-punched and held in ring binders. Typewriting artists like Allen or Burton can pay for the skills of a copy typist or secretary (then) or personal assistant (now) to transcribe their creativity into a best selling book or film. However, word processing democratised writing for the rest of us and thankfully that particular clock will never go back…unless there is a power cut.
My delight in refreshing old skills, the smell of dear Silver Reed’s machine oil and the satisfaction of a completed, error-free typed personal letter and envelope allow me occasionally to indulge in nostalgic pleasures at a gentle pace. However they will co-exist with the sheer efficiency, accuracy, speed and accessibility of word processing and its speedy handmaiden, the email.
For your information, this letter was first typed on my SR 250 then copied, edited, formatted and proof-read using a word processing programme then emailed – no typex or stamp required!
Copy Typist, Writer and Visiting Research Fellow at the University of Strathclyde