Recently I’ve pondered the computer age with a great deal of doubt. Back in the good old days when I began to write, a pencil, a knife and a tablet of paper sufficed. The knife? Oh, it wasn’t for stabbing myself when I grew frustrated. It was — everyone together — to sharpen the pencil. It was all I needed except when it got dark, a match and candle. If this gives you some idea of how long I’ve been writing and how old I am, well so be it.
Actually, my first dealings with a computer were almost 40 years ago when I went to work as office manager for a yacht manufacturing and sales company on Long Island, New York. The boss introduced me to a peculiar looking piece of equipment which ran a spool of paper tape pre-punched with dots that gave information to an IBM Selectric Typewriter. He had form letters punched into those spools, which were stored in a cabinet beneath the “computer.” I sat at a second IBM at my desk, working away on other projects while the machine behind me typed out the letter. It would pause, at which time I would turn around and type in the needed information. First the name and address then finish the salutation when the typewriter typed in Dear ___. Sometimes there might be some more pauses for other key information aimed at this particular person, at which time I would again stop my work to turn around and fill in the blanks.
All day long that thing clattered at my back turning out piles of form letters which were then sent to the mailroom, stuffed in window envelopes and mailed out with accompanying brochures. I never thought at the time about this being a precurser to today’s computer. How could I, not being psychic? But now I see that it was.
Project forward twenty years and we’re now living in the Ozarks of Arkansas and I’ve written three novels on a Sears Portable electric typewriter, which I’ve worn to a frazzle. Then I met a woman who owns what she calls a computer but I learn later is a word processor. It’s portable, with a screen probably six inches across, two slots for large floppies, and the entire thing carries like a small sewing machine. It attaches to a daisy wheel printer which prints slower than I type. But she is creating her books using this gadget. One floppy is for her files, the other is for the program. There is no hard disk.
She ran away with her boyfriend one night, telling her husband she was going somewhere with me. In the rush of events that followed, I ended up with her word processor which I used to grind out a few more books, stories, and the like. I used to remember what the name of that gadget was, but I’ve since forgotten. I’ve had several computers since that time, and learned a lot about their workings. Not nearly enough, however, to figure out what’s wrong when they quit. And quit they will, with regularity. Unlike the pencil, whose lead could break, but I always had the knife.
And, oh yeah, there’s the electricity. Moving into the country means we deal with power outages more frequently than we did in town. I may have a match and candle, but that stupid computer just won’t work without power. Even the laptop is only good for three hours or so, then it’s gone too. I did discover a terrific little keyboard, I call it an electronic typewriter, known as the Alpha Smart. During our recent power outage I filled it completely up and it holds eight files of 20 pages each. And its power is three Double A batteries. Then, it was back to the pencil and paper.
Sad to say, I’ve forgotten how to create with a pencil or pen. My brain no longer kicks in with those super creative thoughts unless I’m sitting at a keyboard. As difficult as it was to advance to this stage, it’s just as difficult to go back. I can’t even create on a recorder. And speaking of those, they’ve gone electronic too. I used to push a button to record, another to stop, etc. Now, this little electronic gadget that records so well, has so many confusing controls I spend more time trying to figure out how to make it work than I do in getting something recorded.
I could go on and on, and I usually do, for there’s the leap from 8 mm movie cameras to today’s product. I just got that little Flip Camera. Someone has finally come to their senses and made something electronic that’s easy to work. There’s a button to turn it on, one to record your video that includes a zoom, one to play it back and one to delete the whole mess. Prior to deleting, you flip out the usb plug, stick it into your computer and it downloads, puts it in a file and labels it. No complicated menu to figure out, no file A and B, Numbers 1 and 2, none of that nonsense. This one gets a thumbs up from me. It is powered by two Triple A Batteries.
As for laptops, I’m learning that they aren’t built to last more than three or four years. By then there’s so much new stuff out there, you’re supposed to bury the old one and buy a new one. And here I am trying to get mine repaired. Why didn’t someone warn me? I went kicking and screaming from no hard drive to Windows 95 to 98 to XP and now I’m feeling even worse about facing Vista. Even those who make the program say it’s far from good. Way far. Now, I’m tentatively laptop shopping again, while thanking the gods that be that my husband has this workhorse desktop that just keeps on keeping on. And better yet, he lets me use it.
Grandson tells me IBM Thinkpad is a workhorse, but expensive. Yeah, but if it lasts? Oh, wait a minute, then I’d have to deal with all those programs that only work on last year’s and this year’s model, so what good would it do me to buy one that lasts? He says HP is the best but that’s what I’ve got, and I do love it. But three years? Whoopeedoo.
So, maybe I’ll go back to the pencil, knife, candle and match. Only trouble is, I don’t think my publishers will accept yellow pads filled with pencil lead scratchings, and marred with the occasional glob of melted wax, do you?