This article appears on the Journal of the American Academy of Physician Assistants’ blog, Musings.
Fifty years on, I can still effortlessly conjure up a mental image of the old black Underwood typewriter that sat in my boyhood home. My father had acquired it second-hand during his college years, and in his chosen profession, he still put it to good use.
My father taught high school business courses: law, bookkeeping, shorthand, office machines and typewriting. From my bedroom where I sat cloistered at my desk immersed in my studies, many evenings I could hear the familiar rhythm of the keystrokes as my father sat at the kitchen table, typing out assignments for his students.
As a boy, I spent hours exploring the intricacies of that old Underwood. It was black and heavy, and boasted all kinds of buttons and levers and cranks that could be pushed and pulled and turned and tapped to produce all sorts of effects. The ribbon could be rewound with a small crank on the side; the carriage was returned by sweeping the long lever at the top left; a small bell dinged when you reached the end of the line. To me, the machine itself was a technological wonder.
When I pointed out these fascinating facts to my father, he would smile a knowing smile and say: “The typewriter is just a tool for writing—nothing more, nothing less.”
In preparation for college, I enrolled in an academic typing class my senior year of high school. Dutifully, I sat at a desk in one of the rows with my fellow classmates in front and back and on either side, fingers on the home row, and practiced striking the corresponding keys as my eyes followed the lines of type in the top-bound instructional manual. Like everyone else, I learned by fits and starts, but by the close of the semester, I had mastered the art of touch typing.
The year I started undergraduate school, my father bought me a brand-new Olympia portable typewriter, which still sits in its case in my home office. It was beautiful and sleek, a joy to type on. Unfortunately, I still needed to correct my keystroke mistakes with an eraser or correction tape, one of the banes of that technological era. Later, I discovered erasable bond paper, which allowed easier correction of mistakes. At some point. Wite-Out made its debut: another technological advance to assist the weary error-prone typist.
Everything changed with the advent of the word processor and then the desktop computer.