Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Zero to Sixty, Chapter 3. Through College with a Typewriter

Some people laugh when I say I got through college with a typewriter, but it’s true. Graduating in 1978 means I was finished before the Apple II and IBM PC were available. But I didn’t know any better, and my portable typewriter was about the size of a laptop, except that it was around two inches thick (and had no cord).

It’s not just the typewriter, though — it’s what you had to go through to write an acceptable looking paper.  We had correction tools — whiteout and typing tape to blank out your errors. But what if you found the mistake after the paper was out of the carriage? You’d have to very carefully try to realign it and type the new letter. If you left out a letter, you’d try to re-do the word. At some point, you’d have to retype the sentence—or the paragraph—or the whole damned paper.

It wasn’t just the mechanics, but the whole mental method of working. Today, you can type in whatever you want, move it around, save it somewhere and revisit it later, send it in an email for review, share it on Google Drive with others interactively, or view it on your smart phone. The creative process is no longer linked to materials—or location. If you want to revise, just do it. Insert that paragraph. Cut and paste away. 

I don’t think I could go back to typing.

Another huge change, for anyone seeking information, is the rise of the Internet. We assume that we can access anything from everywhere today, so it’s easy to forget that in the “olden days,” we had to:

1.       Get down to the library, assuming it was open 
2.       Look through the card catalog (a wooden case comprising lots of little drawers full of cards) 
3.       Write down the book name and number on a slip of paper with a stubby pencil
4.       Take it to the desk and wait in line (and hope the book was even there) 
5.       If the book  was available, take it to a table (if open) and look through it manually for some relevant information (the book could be way out of date)
6.       Write down the information in a  notebook or on a 3 x 5 inch card 
7.       Repeat as needed

What a chore that was. Today, you can grab anything online. But, is it accurate? Is it authoritative? It’s certainly easy to plagiarize. I expect that Wikipedia is a common source of research papers today, and that information is contributed by volunteers! It may be fast, but being effortlessly obtained, is any of it soaking into the students’ brains?

This could degenerate into an “I walked five miles in the snow to school” rant, so I’ll stop. I love the Internet, and use it regularly in researching topics and also enjoy the ability to link directly to my sources. That way, I don’t need to rewrite, unless I want to, and I can show the reader where the information came from.

Of course, with access to practically everything in my left front pocket, I don’t have to memorize phone numbers anymore—or addresses, or anything, really. As long as I have my phone and it has battery power, I’m fine. But I’m just a little nervous that I’m putting my brain itself in the cloud. That’s not something comfortable for most 60-year-olds, I’d wager.

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