Typing is second nature. I rarely need to glance down at the keyboard, I’m fast, and pretty accurate. Of course, I get lots of practice. Looking something up on the library’s website, instead of calling or stopping in; collecting coupons for a grocery trip in my virtual wallet instead of clipping the paper rectangles that would clutter the bottom of my purse; emailing friends and family instead of writing letters. My handwriting was never “Palmer method” perfect – I chose to print my letters instead – but even that has degraded. I will hand write notes in a meeting if I’m without a laptop, but later, I squint at those loops and bumpy lines wondering what I meant.
Typing was everywhere in old movies – newspapermen with their cigarettes and manual typewriters, paper rolled around the platen and yanked out triumphantly for a hot story; secretaries laboring over a letter with carbon copies; writers struggling with the next chapter. But typing was nowhere else in my life while I was growing up. School work was done by hand, and when given the option to take a typing class in high school, I never seriously considered it, probably because I couldn’t imagine why I would ever need to type. I made it to my senior year in college before I had to type a term paper. There were fliers posted around campus for typists who would do this task for a few dollars, but somehow, I managed to borrow a typewriter and produce a passable version of my paper – if you ignored those blobs of white-out.
As I interviewed for my first full-time job, the manager finished talking with me about my background and skills, and curiously starting talking about word processing. The office had recently gotten some of these magical machines that were like typewriters, but you could make corrections on a screen, and save the typing to make another document. I had no idea what he was talking about or why he wanted to share this with me. My desk, like everyone else’s in my department had a telephone, an adding machine, ledger paper, and legal pads. If something had to be typed, we placed the handwritten item in the basket on the front desk of the secretarial pool. These women were the only people in the entire office who had what we would call computers. Hours later, the typed item would be delivered to my desk.
This nirvana was disrupted a few years later when we all got computers. Now we had to learn to type, edit, and print. In a panic, I took a typing class at the local community college. The delivery of interoffice mail was completely replaced with email. Spreadsheets replaced paper ledgers. PowerPoint replaced markers and compasses for presentation visuals.
My mother has never learned to type. Maybe the stereotype of a secretary seemed too limiting. Maybe someone interviewing her assumed she’s be a secretary and never considered her other skills. For whatever reason, my mom avoided any work that would require typing and instead went into commissioned sales. That’s like choosing a gymnastics routine on the balance beam because walking looks boring. I realize now how brave and determined she was – and successful.
Computers and smartphones have made our work completely mobile – we can work anywhere and all the time. I’ll clean up this analysis for a few minutes on the weekend, I say, or brush up a few of my slides the night before a meeting. Sure, typing itself isn’t evil, but it crowds out other things. I’m beginning to see that my mom’s suspicion of typing was well-founded. I think it’s time I put this computer down and read a book.