My old portable typewriter has to go. It clutters up the office sitting there next to its cousin, a desk-size manual typewriter. But sentiment makes chucking the antique difficult.
The portable typewriter has been saved without use for at least a quarter century now because it doesn't work quite right. The carriage sticks and causes letters to pile on top of each other until the carriage becomes unstuck with a little nudge and makes a spring loaded leap to the end of the line, moving the typewriter with it.There is some sentimental value to the old, soon to be discarded, portable. It has been to Europe twice in its durable black case. My dad took it to Germany in a sea trunk when he went there by ship on an LDS mission. It went back again during the war when Dad returned to Germany as a translator with the U.S. Army.
It was the typewriter that saw me through the University of Utah, where it earned me occasional teacher notes on my returned essays that reminded me that I needed a new ribbon. It was temperamental at times as keys would become jammed together as they competed for space in the little slot where they hit the ribbon and paper.
I occasionally think of what it was like to type on my old portable when students complain about having to revise work on their word processors. I tell them about the good old days when they complain about sending their assignments to me by e-mail.
Teachers back then didn't like the thin, sticky easy-erase paper, and whiteout would sometimes make an error look worse. It wouldn't take much of a mistake before the page had to be typed over, and changing one page a bit would mean that the next three pages had to be retyped because something was added to the first page that was revised. Besides, there always seemed to be too little space left at the bottom of the page for the footnote.
Now the error on the screen is easily changed before it ever hits the paper, and in some cases an e-mail assignment never really does hit the paper.
Assignments are much like the columns I write. They are never on paper until they are in the paper. I never make a hard copy.
Students today put my sad tales of typing papers past right up there with 10 miles uphill each way to school in waist deep snow. If I'm looking for sympathy from students it's under S in the dictionary, or rather spell-checker. "Sympathy" is after "students." Those of us who have been there, however, know that the technology of writing a paper is now a model of computer age progress.
The first stop is the library, formerly the learning resource center and prior to that the library. The card catalog is accessed (formerly used) with a keyboard while watching the screen. The computer will not only search the local library but will scan the libraries of the nation for information. The computer tells the student where the book is and when it is due back if it is checked out. It only takes students at any library in Utah a few days to get a book from any other library.
The computer will search for magazine and newspaper articles the same way. The articles are stored on CDs or somewhere in space on the Internet. On some library systems students read the information on the computer screen. Other systems send the reader to a compact cabinet of microfiche. A CD much like those we listen to music on are part of a computer system that can give instant access to maps, encyclopedias, the literary classics and almanac data. Students can read the screen or print a hard copy (something on paper) for later reading. I wish I had a picture of the 10-foot stacks of musty magazines in the basement of the old University of Utah Library where we would wander among the steam pipes and lost graduate students looking for the right edition that was invariably checked out. It probably wouldn't impress students who would ask me to tell them again about how far I walked to school in the snow.
After today's students find the references they draft their paper on the computer. It occurs to me that they are just taking information from one computer and putting it in another. The computer allows them to juggle sentences and paragraphs around before it checks the grammar and spelling for them. The margins are right and left justified, pages numbered automatically, and footnotes courteously assembled for listing at the end the way it should have been done back when.
With all these newfangled modern conveniences to make writing easier, student writing should be better than ever before. I'm not sure it is. Maybe there is some human element from the past missing today, or maybe I remember it better than it was.
It probably is time for the old Royal portable to be given an honorable burial, and it won't be in the dump. The Snow theater department looked for months when it needed a vintage typewriter for a prop. There aren't many of the old things around any more that have had such a dignified past. This one could find its final resting place in a solemn but cluttered prop room where I hope students may occasionally notice it, try to type on it, and wonder how anyone could have ever written a decent term paper on that thing.
Another option would be to leave it in the library where students can point and chuckle and wonder how anyone could ever get anything written on something like that. I wouldn't have to worry about anyone stealing it. Most people may not recognize what it is, and most of them wouldn't know how to use a typewriter that didn't have a screen.