I had a video conference call with Mrs. Soto’s fourth-grade class this morning. I wore a tie for old times’ sake. Although I have always looked ridiculous in neckties.
I discussed the art of creative writing. I covered topics like essays, grammar, and how I learned to use a manual typewriter in Mister Edmund’s typing class back in 1807.
Eight-year-old Akin raised his hand and asked, “Wait. What’s a typewriter?”
I found myself smiling, loosening my necktie, because at this moment I felt about as old as the Giza Pyramids.
“You’ve never heard of a typewriter?” I asked the Future of America.
Most kids hadn’t.
I couldn’t believe this. Which got me thinking about all the other things Mrs. Soto’s kids probably never heard of. For instance, Garfunkel.
And what about Rand McNally maps? I’d like to know where those went. You can’t even buy them in gas stations anymore.
I believe maps are superior to GPS systems. Maps never recalculate, never screw up, there are no batteries, no connective errors, no robotic voices that sound like Jacques Cousteau on horse tranquilizers.
Sure with paper maps people often got lost in the wilderness, but only a small percentage of these people actually died.
So it was hard for the fourth-graders to believe that I still use an archaic device like a typewriter, but it’s true. And for anyone in Mrs. Soto’s class who is reading this column (for extra credit), I will tell you why.
For writers, the typewriter serves a sound professional purpose. And I’ll illustrate my point by telling you exactly how I wrote this column:
First, I sat down.
Next, I fired up my laptop, which is connected to the vastness of the internet.
I ate Fritos.
Then I cracked my knuckles. I started typing with greasy fingers.
Before I finished my first paragraph, I already had a problem because I knew I wanted to talk about Rand McNally roadmaps. So I opened an internet browser and did a search.
There went 13 hours of my day.
My simple search took me to huge online map databases. Which led me to (why not?) a hydrological survey of Utah. Which led to fascinating articles about Mormon beliefs regarding undergarments. Which ultimately led to a video of a cat wearing men’s underpants and riding a raft in a pool. After this I took a nap.
So I think I’ve proved my point.
But with typewriters you don’t get distracted. You sit down; you write. No interruptions. That’s why I sometimes use them. Although not as often as I should.
As a kid we all used typewriters. And as I said earlier, we attended mandatory typing classes, too. I told this to Mrs. Soto’s class and was greeted with snickers.
The Brilliant Minds of Tomorrow responded with: “Typing CLASSES? But why?”
Then everyone openly laughed.
It’s been a long time since a body of fourth-graders ganged up on me.
Mrs Soto’s class then informed me that today’s kids don’t need typing instruction; they’ve been typing on standard keyboards since they were ovums. Many toddlers can already type 7,000 words per minute.
Well, good for them. Because once upon a time we pre-computer generations learned the QWERTY keyboard on corroded manual typewriters in Mister Edmund’s class. These machines had crusty ink ribbons that hadn’t been replaced since the Eisenhower administration.
Which was also approximately the same era when Mister Edmund last bathed—this man’s tailwind could knock a toad off a gut wagon.
We kids would spend entire class periods doing typing drills which consisted of tapping out nonsensical practice sentences like:
“The quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog.”
“Now is the time for all good men to come to the aid of the party.”
“Mister Edmund has thermonuclear b.o.”
Sadly, typewriters, maps, and lots of other cool things are now considered obsolete, and I for one am against this. Namely, because old stuff frequently outperforms, outdoes, and outclasses “emerging technology.” This, in a nutshell, is why I am crazy about antiques.
So I’m running out of room here, but I’ll finish by saying that if by chance Mrs. Soto’s class is still reading this, and has somehow maintained consciousness, I want you to know that there is magic in old things.
You can’t find this charm in glowing monitors or phone screens. You can, however, find it in an antique store. Which is why I encourage all Mrs. Soto’s kids to go mess around with some real antiquities.
Get your hands dusty. Hold a paper map. Flip through the pages of a Norman Rockwell compilation book. Try on old hats. Wear wire rimmed spectacles. Borrow your grandmother’s Smith Corona manual typewriter. Do it while you can. Do it while your grandmother is still here.
Because each year your childhood will get further away. And someday you’ll end up speaking to a class of cheerfully curious fourth-graders who will make you feel like Methuselah’s great-uncle when they giggle at you.
Then again, maybe they were laughing at my tie.
Kay Williams - April 8, 2021 7:09 am
That’s true! Kids today are born with typing and computer skills. I remember when we got our first home computer and I was having trouble with it. My 2 year old granddaughter said in her little Minnie Mouse voice, “You have to reboot it, Mimi”.
Marie WILLIAMS - April 10, 2021 2:53 am
Joe Dorough - April 8, 2021 8:55 am
Jacques Cousteau on horse tranquilizers and Mormon beliefs about undergarments is the best description I’ve ever heard that fits internet searches and can use up our work time and make our thoughts wonder. Did your tie have a big horse head on it? Great article. Now I know why I like old cars!
Norma Den - April 8, 2021 10:34 am
Oh now that I’ve stopped laughing, and it did me good, I remember typing classes on old cranky Remington typewriters. Heavy as lead, slapped knuckles for making errors and “wasting good government paper”. The Quick Brown Fox, The good men…….I could go on & on. Was living in the then Northern Rhodesia, late 1950’s. Never did progress to the upmarket “electric versions”. Can also never hear the William Tell music without thinking of a cranky old teacher slapping her ruler at her leg in time to the music. Was supposed to give us correct rhythm, but Elvis was the only one could do it for me back then. What our youngsters of today are missing out on makes me want to weep & go back to that old dusty, hot (no aircon) classroom..
Kirk E Chamberlain - April 8, 2021 10:36 am
We all had dictionaries on each desk to look up words for sentences and encyclopedia on the bookshelf for curious wandering, self-toured exploration of the world out there. Typing was only for girls when I was in school, shop class for boys.
We learned mapping and orienteering, then celestial navigation for sailing. The slide rule was to fine tune the numbers we worked out on paper and pencil.
Perspective, important in understanding how things work and make sense of the crazy conditioned world.
Yep, I am a happy geezer 😉
Leigh Amiot - April 8, 2021 10:56 am
My three-year-old granddaughter knows exactly what a manual typewriter is.
She saw one recently in a museum in Cheyenne, Wyoming.
Jamie Brewer - April 8, 2021 11:42 am
Thank you for this. Back in 2003 I was attending college for the year. It’s a long involved story. Anyway, I was typing out some work in the lab and things got very quiet. I could sense a prescence behind me. I turned around and there was the lab instructor who aksed me, “Please don’t type so hard!” There were giggles all around. I tred to explain how for nearly 30 years my only typiing was done on a 1910 Remington typewriter. It took a lot of force to get those keys to strike. From that time forward, when I’d be tuyping in that lab I wouild hear whispers of “type softer please!!!!”
Leslie W Smith - April 8, 2021 11:45 am
ASDFJKL; Loved my typing class!
Jo - April 8, 2021 11:52 am
Thanks for the chuckle of the day!! “The quick brown fox….” how well I remember. And how many times has my husband threatened to throw the gps out the window in front of the next on coming truck. But funny, never recall wanting to throw the map out the window!! A great day to all😊
Stephanie Mummert - April 8, 2021 11:52 am
OMGoodness. Typing classes. I remember those…(and am now showing my age.) My left pinky was never strong enough to hit the Q hard enough to leave a mark on the paper. Do they even sell typewriter ribbon anymore?
Patsy A. Boshears - April 8, 2021 12:14 pm
Military brats are all too familiar with Rand McNally! Cross country trips demanded that the one who called shot-gun had to be adept in reading the map and functioning as its verbal translation to the driver! Who needs GPS when you’ve got a bright child serving the function? My daughter Dusty, now 48, and I travel with a good old hard copy as well as anything we can find to make the trip interesting like “Back Roads of Texas”, etc. Her children, however, operate much like your 4th graders!
Bill in Montgomery - April 8, 2021 12:24 pm
Can’t buy maps in “a gas station”? What is a gas station? Similar to a convenience store?
Frances Hedrick - April 8, 2021 12:40 pm
Now is the time for ….. goodness that brought back memories of typing class -on a manual typewriter
Recently my daughter and I were following a cycle driver who gave a hand signal to turn. I told her that when I began driving that was the normal way to give signal for turning etc. her remark-you mean cars didn’t have blinkers???
So many changes.
Luellen Wittenbach - April 8, 2021 12:44 pm
Dear Sean, I took my typing class DURING the Eisenhower administration.
Pamela Smith - April 8, 2021 12:52 pm
Were Mr. Edmundson and my typing teacher, Mrs. Eyer, related? I drew a typewriter in her class that had caps covering the keys. When I asked to be reassigned, she told me I’d learn or fail. I did. Of all the things I’ve learned and forgotten, I use Mrs. Eyer’s teachings every single day. I also have my grandmother’s typewriter as one of my treasures.
Mary - April 8, 2021 1:05 pm
Thanks again for a wonderful column. You are so very talented!
SuSu - April 8, 2021 1:11 pm
Sean, I too love typewriters! I have a former student who loves to restore old typewriters. She does beautiful work! She also keeps bees and just retired from a Hospice ministry. I gave a friend whose name is spelled JuaNita because the old country doctor used a typewriter with a hanging N to complete her birth certificate. Keep banging out good thoughts, and if your typewriter ever needs repair, I can hook you up.
Jenny Young - April 8, 2021 1:22 pm
This is why I pull out my grandmothers record player & play my mother’s Carter family, Elvis & Porter Wagoner records for my grandson.
Kate - April 8, 2021 1:23 pm
My father made me take typing in junior high and I hated it, and none of us liked the teacher, but learning how to type was the best investment I ever made. My father was much smarter than I realized at the time. And yes, young children seem to come into life knowing how to use the computer and how to find things on the television, as my 3 year old grandson reminded me the other day, “Gigi, if you will give me the remote, I can do it for you.” Thanks for the laughter.
Kate - April 8, 2021 1:24 pm
And you really are a good artist. I enjoy your art as much as your columns
Anne Godwin - April 8, 2021 1:44 pm
“So I opened an internet browser and did a search.
There went 13 hours of my day.”
Such a true statement. I’m constantly telling my grands and myself to fight the addiction of technology. It sucks you in. A recent attic search found an old typewriter in a case that I gave my grands. Keep writing. It’s good for you and the rest of our world.
Martha B Stuart - April 8, 2021 1:57 pm
I loved this, I so remember typing class and teacher, Miss Adair!
Juliette - April 8, 2021 2:13 pm
You’ve given me a lovely chuckle for today as I immediately Googled “Hydrographic Surveys of Utah” and followed an interesting link.
That link took me to a listing of the scanned Hydrographic Survey map sets.
From there, I clicked another link,
which led to another link,
which led to an image of a blank page of graph paper with a single penciled note in the center . . . “All this land is in Idaho”
LOL – I think that’s going to become our new family catchphrase for figurative dead ends.
Sharon Brock - April 8, 2021 2:27 pm
I am a retired archivist who dealt with the past and obsolete technology on a daily basis for 21 years. I do not own a computer/printer of any kind. I used them enough at work. My grocery lists are handwritten on lined paper in ink. I have a drawer with pencils which I sharpen with a hand crank pencil sharpener. My grandchildren who know I am hopelessly out of date love me nonetheless.
I am particularly fond of cassette players, the Rand McNally Road map (I order a new one from Amazon annually), the rotary dial land phone, and the Royal Manual typewriter. I still own stationery upon which I handwrite letters in cursive with my fountain pen. My grandchildren can read and write cursive because I insisted on teaching them how. Christmas lists had to be handwritten in cursive. I have a cell phone only because the grandchildren insisted and they chose the make and model.
My Christmas trees are lit with strands of multi-color, LED lights except for the lone tree lit with while lights. I tried one strand of white LED lights and a 747 jumbo jet could have found my balcony from 10,000 feet.
Sheila Gustafson - April 8, 2021 2:30 pm
Bought our current Rand McNally atlas at a Walmart, but if you’re a AAA member, they have TONS and TONS of honest-to-goodness maps!
Christina - April 8, 2021 2:45 pm
How the ways of life have changed! I’m savoring in the memories of these “antiques”.
Frances Hartzog - April 8, 2021 2:53 pm
Yes, you can still buy paper road maps. It will cost you! My husband I were in Nova Scotia last year. Some areas (like Alabama) does not have WIFI so no GPS connections. I panicked and insisted we stop as see if we could buy a map. The attendant pulled a dusty one out and charged me $8.00! Remember when they were free? I felt much better even after giving him $8.00 Nova Scotia is a big place with not much internet service!
Nancy - April 8, 2021 4:13 pm
Encyclopedias. Where did they go?
I’m from Alabama although I live in California. My family lives there still. They all have WiFi. Please don’t slur the South. That’s so Hollywood and so wrong.
Leslie - April 8, 2021 4:37 pm
ASDFJKL; I loved my typing class circa 1974.
Linda Moon - April 8, 2021 4:58 pm
I didn’t know you were older than I. You look good for your age. I’m of the Garfunkel generation, and I’ve seen him LIVE AND IN PERSON! Gangs of fourth-graders are the reason I moved up to teaching fifth-graders. They don’t form gangs as often. An internet gremlin invaded as I was typing this internet post, so I though about digging through some ancient junk and find my old Smith-Corona and snail-mail this comment to you. But I eventually got rid of the dreaded gremlin myself! Old gals like me and manual typewriters know what we’re doing!
Linda Moon - April 8, 2021 5:04 pm
typo correction and I wish I had some white-out: “I THOUGHT about digging…” (The gremlin made me do it)
Nita - April 8, 2021 5:24 pm
I learned on the old manual typewriters. Had never even seen an electric one until I went to work in a bank. I was trying to fill out a form but was sitting there in front of an electric typewriter and didn’t have a clue how to turn it on!
The manager came by the desk and said to the girl who hired me, ” Did we hire the right girl for this job?” She showed me how to turn it on. I worked there for 8 years after that.
elizabethroosje - April 8, 2021 7:41 pm
fun article! Yeah, the internet can really suck you in. neat full colour graphic/drawing! 🙂
Donna T Herrin - April 8, 2021 8:20 pm
I have the same problem of not staying focused on whatever it is I sat down to do. My mind wonders, and I’m off to search for something out there on Google. It doesn’t help that I’m ADHD. I rarely stay on one project to completion in the time it should take to get it done.
MAM - April 8, 2021 8:47 pm
This column opened up all SORTS of memories for this getting older woman! For instance, real photos, not just digital images. Read photos that you can flip through an album and look at. Digital images that you can’t find on your computer. Then there’s the time the fancy new navigation system in our daughter’s car led us completely astray until we had to call the store to find out where it was. (Of course it was handy that we had one of those newfangled cell phones!). Cell phones can also be used to tell someone you’re running late—not that I’ve gone anywhere for a year! Oh, where was I? Oh, yeah, looking for that one photo that is named IMG_1234 or some number like that. I might have to pull out that old manual typewriter to get an article done, but then how will I be able to post it? Thanks as always for a great column, Sean!
Viann A - April 8, 2021 10:23 pm
The best example related to us that understand ‘antiques’ is to lock young-uns’ in a room with a rotary phone, Manuel typewriter, a old fashioned clock with moving hands and instructions written in cursive. They’d never make it! Kids don’t get clock-wise since theirs don’t have any movements.
Mari Bonomi - April 8, 2021 11:23 pm
Typing class, we typed “It is a duty of a man to do me a turn and if he can he is to do so.” It reproduces many of the most common letter combinations in English, according to “Buckets” Sprague, the typing teacher.
And we learned rhythmic typing, for speed achievement, by typing that sentence to songs like “The Green Door” by Jim Lowe (1956). Yeah, I’m *that* old!!
I adore computers, and I still touch-type, but not to “The Green Door” 🙂
Debra - April 9, 2021 2:47 am
you’re just dadgum funny
Nancy M - April 9, 2021 4:33 am
Everything you wrote brings back memories! And dear Ms. Hartzog, I live in Alabama. We do have WiFi and internet here. Come visit Alabama sometime. You might be pleasantly surprised. 😊
Richard - April 10, 2021 4:57 pm
The QWERTY keyboard (the first 6 letters on the upper left) was not designed for speed, but to slow typists down. The type arms with each letter on them had to fall back down and get out of the way of the next stroke. If you typed too fast the type arms got caught up with each other. Notice the little dots on the F and J keys. They are there to remind you where to place your fingers on the keyboard. Most young people don’t bother to learn the QWERTY keyboard anyway; they just type with the two index fingers and they are very fast !!
Gina Hendriks - April 15, 2021 4:25 pm
I love this! I own an antique store in Florala Alabama and love it when a family come across a typewriter and have to explain what it is and how it works to their kids! Or to see them explain the phone booth and how to work the phone… no son, there are no touch screens.
Catherine - April 19, 2021 12:48 pm
Oh how I relived my typing classes (two years!) through your musings! We HAD to put our fingers on the correct keys or we (the fingers) were busted! I always wonder how today’s youth, who cut their teeth on laptops, and have received no formal training in the proper key finger typing technique have managed to effectively create their own technique~surely their own style is far substandard to the QWERTY method…..