I guess I’ve always wanted to be a writer. I can remember when I was still in high-school, struggling to write a “novel”. I never got very far, and I believe everything I wrote from back then has been destroyed, fortunately!

When in college I tried, unsuccessfully, to get various articles and short-stories published in magazines. That I would submit my amateur writings to national publications, where the competition was fierce and the likelihood of acceptance ridiculously low, all but guaranteed failure. Still, it was disappointing when the SASE returned with the inevitable rejection letter.

Recently I came across two pieces I wrote while in college, back in the 1970‘s, that have somehow survived all these years in a more-or-less readable condition. They were written about two childhood friends, both of whom had died in separate automobile wrecks on successive New Year’s eves. The first impression I had was how poorly written these bits of prose were, yet at the same time, how I was trying to express some possibly worthwhile thoughts. I say “possibly”, because I may have been just trying to sound deep and thoughtful, as all liberal arts college students strive to be, (when not partying, of course!). The second, more lasting impression was that, wow!, they were typed out using a typewriter.

I remember the old manual typewriter I had in college. It was a heavy beast, and could take some pounding. Which was fortunate, because it was not electric, so you had to really press the keys hard to have them make a good impression on the paper. Mistakes were fixed with either white-out, or simply crossed through with a pen. The spell checker was a dictionary my Dad bought me. Checking the proper spelling of a word was a time consuming, labor intensive process!

Typing term papers could literally take days, particularly for a poor typist and speller like me. Word processors were pretty much non-existent, and as for word processing software, remember that the first rudimentary IBM PC wasn’t even offered for sale until 1981. Sure, you could maybe get an Apple II, or a RadioShack TRS 80, but neither was very portable, and both were beyond the budget of most college students.

I don’t know how we managed to produce what we did with just a typewriter. Certainly now I would think it a huge waste of time! But I also remember thinking at the time how wonderful it was that we didn’t have to write with just pen and ink, and wondering how all those poor folks managed, years ago, to ever write a letter, let alone a novel. Yet novels from 200 years ago are long, flowing affairs, while our stories from current times seem shorter and choppier. Has automation helped us, or hurt us?