Sunday, 17 August 2008

The March of Progress


This evening I was typing a comment on Kat's blog when Helena came into the room. I looked round at her and continued to type. She was surprised that I could still produce coherent text without looking at either the screen or the keyboard. Okay, coherent might not be the right word for my blog comments. Correctly spelt, maybe. Most of the time.

This is because I learnt to type when I was a child. At school they taught me useful things like reading, and writing, and counting, and French verbs. At least they tried to teach me French, but either they failed to do this, or I failed to learn.

You could also learn to type, although that was mainly girls, doing something like "office studies". My sister did that and is a lot better than me. And has certificates to prove it.

My father was taught in the Army, on old Teletypewriters. These only have the letter keys, so he used to put his fingers on the "F" and "H" instead of the "F" and "J" which are marked on modern keyboards. Our little fingers rest on the ";" key - which of course, didn't exist then.

My mother learned from a second-hand typing course that one of her friends lent her. I've no idea why she wanted to (boredom, perhaps?), but I had a typewriter as a child, and loved to type things, so I went through it as well. It was a bit more difficult on a typewriter, since you had to not only hit the keys harder, but also to hit them with a consistent pressure.

This was all in the good old days when offices looked like this:

Nowadays, they're completely different:

Plus ca change... (If I'd payed more attention in French lessons, I'd know what that means).

The main difference is that in those olden days only typists typed. Everyone else wrote or dictated. Nowadays even the boss types. And yet they're still teaching people to write. Why is that? Wouldn't Helena be better off learning to type instead?

I mean, who writes these days? My handwriting is pretty much illegible, but that's fine since no-one but me has to read it (and I'm not good at this, so I try to avoid it where possible). I remember very well when I was about 14, and my English teacher complained about it. I remember him saying "Maybe one day computers will take over and people won't need to read your writing, but that's not going to happen soon, so you'd better improve."


This was in the mid-80s. Ten years later when I started working in an office they were just bringing in computers on everyone's desktops. And retraining all the typists to do other things.

I had this discussion with a colleague. He doesn't think that people should be taught to type. He points out that keyboards are a lot bigger than typewriters, and also you have to keep moving your hand away to use the mouse. I try and use the mouse infrequently. It's evil. It gives you RSI.

I hope Helena follows the family tradition and learns to type (my maternal grandmother was a secretary), as whatever else happens in our rapidly changing world, the keyboard seems to be here to stay.

Oh, and as far as SMS is concerned, maybe they should replace it with morse:


for a different kind of girl said...

I took a typing class in high school. Just one. I recall doing rather poorly at it. I could never get used to the idea that the typewriter couldn't keep up with my typing speed. That didn't stop me from getting a typewriter as one of my 'big' presents when I graduated high school and embarked on college to be a journalist. The typewriter was proven quickly useless when we became the first college in the nation to be equipped with computers. Now I can barely write with a pencil or pen, and I virtually never use a mouse.

I've typed this entire comment while watching the Olympics on television, so there's a chance that the paragraphs above this are riddled with errors, but I hope not!

Bee said...

I took typing in school too but I mostly joked around in that class. The teacher was a young dude so let us get away with not practicing and gave us A's.

The following is a true story.
When I was looking for an office job after the chicken place, I took a piece of paper wrote the order of the keys on it and then memorized it. I did the same thing when I was working at Brown's.

Kat said...

Never took a typing class in school. I don't even think they offered one either. Now I can type using all ten fingers without looking mainly due to sitting in front of a computer all day long.

Can you imagine the noise in these offices with hundreds of people typing away on old typewriters? That must have been awful. Also, thanks for the shout out :) Have a great week.

Brian o vretanos said...


I forgot about journalists and writers as another set of people who always typed...

These days, if I write more than a sentence my hand starts to hurt.


And you got away with it too, I bet...


I hadn't thought of the noise. People probably went deaf because of it.

Jean Knee said...

I was on the edge of my seat wondering if Morse code would win, and it did--yes!

Brian o vretanos said...

Jean Knee:

There's a similar story about a 93-year-old beating a 13-year-old. The morse guy sent the message in full, and still got it there faster than the texter who abbreviated all the words into textese...

catscratch said...

I took that class in school. The teacher covered our hands with paper so we couldn't cheat.

My kids type super fast and that's without classes. Figure, how much time do they spend on the computer.

Brian o vretanos said...


Maybe my colleague is right, and they don't need to bother doing it at school.

Perhaps they could teach morse code, though...

Dan said...

I don't think you need a class for typing. I never took a class and type super fast. Although I do use my right index finger for exclamation points.
I do have to look at the keyboard.

Jean Knee said...

Just last week we were at the museum and with the antique typewriters they had an IBM selectric which is what I learned to type on. ANTIQUES. am I dating myself here--it was the newest typewriter in the class at the time.

Brian o vretanos said...


I think that's the general consensus.

Jean Knee:

Things are becoming antiques frighteningly fast. It's even worse with computers - I've seen some in museums that I used to use.

Somewhere Helena and I went a while back had a demo with a telephone that had a dial instead of buttons, and none of the children knew how to dial a number on it. That made me feel old...

Sully Sullivan said...

Not to brag (but I'm gonna), other than browsing the net, I do not need a mouse to operate a computer and I rarely use it. The tabbing in internet browsers is way too annoying to screw around with so I'm forced to use a mouse for clicking links and buttons.

My handwriting is horrible also and I find myself getting frustrated when I'm forced to hand write for exended periods of time.

Ah the future...

Brian o vretanos said...


The mouse certainly isn't the most wonderful invention.