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Tuesday, 22 January 2013

My Father's Word Processor

     I discovered an interesting bit of technological history, using YouTube and Wikipedia in the past few weeks. For anyone who uses their Microsoft Word or Mac Word or (like me!) Apache Open Office--nothing like a free office suite, whether corporeal or not. Your word processor is actually the result of a very late piece of technology, dating pack to the late 70s and 80s. It was an all electronic machine that combined the latest advancements of the typewriter--namely the daisy wheel and IBM's latest and greatest QWERTY keyboard layout--and added either a screen to the machine or offered a full size (for the time) monitor. Oddly enough, where most machines that fly under a single banner all look essentially the same, the word processor would vary to such degrees that some could be mistaken for a computer. That is, until you peek over the top and notice there is a printer grafted to it.
     Naturally, I am sure that we all know that the personal computer was started in the 70s; the word processor was a way of staving off the demise of the typewriter until the middle of the 90s. That's right, for those of you who cannot recall the middle 90s, there were still typewriter rooms in schools for typing class; offices had more Wheelwriters than they had Mac or PC; the closest thing to a laptop was a square of legal pad; and phones still came out of the wall.
     It's weird recalling this, now, as an adult; I--being part of the millenials, or the tail end of GenX--have forgotten most of what my childhood looked like from a technical standpoint. Perhaps it was because my family didn't make the move to the PC until 2002 or 2003. We had an old Silver-Reed--a gift to my dad when he went to college. It was an awful machine that made everyone mad--it might be the reason for high blood pressure in my family, actually. It wasn't until one day when my oldest sister, getting ready to write her senior seminar paper, turned it on and said, "Dad, your typewriter is broken."
     Said Dad, "No it isn't. You kids just don't know how to use it!"
     But, standing over the machine, he began to smack a key here and there, and---"Huh, I guess it is broken."
     So my family finally transitioned into the digital age of the internet. And then it seemed such a smooth and natural transition. After all, I didn't have to deal with the problems that came from DSL or dial-up internet. We had cable internet from the get-go. And our computer was tailored to our needs, made by a friend of the family. The days of analog just seemed to pass in the same way my childhood did, as I became an adult: seemingly over night. We have six computers in our homes, now: four laptops, two PCs, and I'm not even counting the smart/iphones. 
     It's all very reassuring to remember that all of these super small super fast things we have today are really just amalgams of older tech, combined and (sometimes) refine--not always. (See anything that HP or Gateway makes. Not very impressive.)
     And, yet, here I am romanticizing the past. Oh well, let someone else worry about the why's for now.

From Elliott at the Kitchen Table, with a cup of coffee.