Thursday, February 2, 2006

End of an Era

Fallenmonk notes the passing of the telegram.

The end of a major part of American history. It was not a very well publicized change but as of Jan 27 Western Union has stopped doing telegrams. They are going to continue with their primary business which is money transfer and which represents a 3 billion dollar a year business.


There are probably millions of people around the world that still remember a telegram that they recieved. Western Union delivered thousands of messages during WWII that brought the devastating news to families about the fate of their loved ones. Many others probably have happier memories connected with the telegram such as births and marriages.

Even though I haven’t sent or received a telegram in 35 years or so it still seems like I have lost something.

That made me think of the passing of other old-fashioned technological marvel, the typewriter. I’m trying to think of the last time it was that I used one, and it has to be ten years ago at least. My last one was a 1966 IBM Selectric that my parents bought for me when I was in grad school in 1976. I loved the heavy feel of the paper, the firm grip of the platen, and the authoratative thunk of the “golf ball” as it struck the paper. When you wrote something, it was permanent; making a change or correcting a typo took effort. You had to think out what you said, frame it exactly right, and then, only when you were sure of what you wanted to say — be it a letter or a novel — you committed it to paper. And for those of us who were self-taught typists, Liquid Paper and the CorrectoType slips were your best friends.

When the first “word processors” came out in the late 1970’s they were cumbersome and the programs like WordStar required a degree in advanced computing just to know how to underline something. I shunned the idea of writing on computers. It was too ephemeral; I liked the idea of seeing paper piling up in the box, and I liked the challenge of putting a blank piece of paper into the roller and filling it up.

But the computer age caught up with me. My first computer, an Apple IIc, was small, the word processing program primitive, and the black screen with green pixels was like writing on an ATM. But now I could go back and re-write without throwing out paper, and having the Backspace key ready underneath my right pinkie meant that stupid tyops typos didn’t hold me up. I found my typing improved and I could finally write as quickly as I thought. That’s one problem I have with writing in longhand; I do it in manuscript printing form (my cursive hand is like that of a child) and it takes a very long time to get something out on paper by hand; my brain races ahead of my pen to the point where it gets distracted as it waits for it to catch up.

So even though the typewriter occupies a place in my heart — my first produced play came from one — I’m glad I’ve been able to move on to the efficiency of the computer and the forgiving nature of dancing electrons. Besides, can you imaging blogging in longhand?