Saturday, January 10, 2009

Touch Typing

Between seventh and eighth grades (or between eighth and ninth?) the deal was this: if I wanted to take an art class in summer school, I had to take typing. So said Mom. Although I didn't mind being in an art studio soldering bits of stained glass together, the thought of staying inside, seated in front of a typewriter when I could see the sun in its beautiful blue sky out the window, was torture. Still, I sat there. Such is the suffering one will endure for art! I typed the home keys in order, hundreds of times: a-s-d-f-g-h-j-k-l-;. I stretched my fingers up for T and Y and down for B. I did pages of the prototype sentence, "The quick brown fox jumped over the lazy dogs." Yes, it has every letter of the alphabet in it at least once. I learned to automatically put two spaces after each period. (I have had a hard time undoing this habit, but a copy editor's job these days is often to make sure there is only one space following a complete sentence!) It's fair to say I hated the class at the time. Now, though, I have to tip my hat to Mom and say a belated "thanks" for making me do it. Then, I thought it was such an old fashioned, secretarial thing to do—and it was clear I would never be a secretary—but of course it was good advice, regardless. And now, with my current art form dependent on my fingers keeping up with my thoughts (I work directly on the computer most of the time, I have to admit, though it's a poor substitute sometimes for good old pen on paper), well, it's a good thing I can type fast. Except, pardon me, it's not even called "typing" anymore; it's "keyboarding." And it's quite silent, at least compared to what typing was. No hard striking sound of an actual key on paper, no loud electric hum (when you were actually using an electric typewriter and not a manual one), no bell to signal the end of the line, no carriage return or satisfying roll of the platen as you pull out a finished page. And suddenly I'm feeling old: I realize that my son will not even know, unless I tell him, that there ever was such a thing as a typewriter!  Maybe I should send him to this site, the Classic Typewriter Page. I can also tell him about the black Underwood that belonged to my grandmother, plus my mother's Royal, which she painted a bright enamel red. I inherited both of these typewriters, but my son has not yet seen them: they were sent for overhaul to a mechanically gifted Luddite genius in a scary-looking office space in the Flatiron building, and I have yet to reclaim them (have to follow up on that). But back to the touch-typing. I see myself at thirteen years, seated at a purgatorial row of desks with electric typewriters (IBM, I'm sure), and I'm amazed, knowing how resistant I was to the whole idea, that these drills and skills have never left me, that I did not revert to the "hunt and peck" method that many make work for them all their lives. Not only do I remember touch typing, I have gotten to be quite fast, and I will close by revealing something that a friend had to point out to me a couple years ago. As a testament to my touch-typing abilities, I didn't even know what she was talking about; I had to look at my keyboard to find that, in fact, she was right: there are no letters on my home keys anymore, the labeling has completely worn off. My laptop is all but useless to anyone who is not, like me, a touch typist.  In my house, that does provide a bit of added security. Again: thanks, Mom!


  1. You're psychic! I was just thinking, this very weekend, how sad it was that my little ones will not know the satisfying feel of thumping those little keys, not unlike playing the piano. Ok, it's NOT like playing the piano, but it felt similar, in that they both give you that gratifying tactile resonance when you "land" that key. can one procure a good old-fashioned typewriter nowadays, i wonder? maybe i'll look into piano lessons...

  2. i'm dead without a keyboard - pen and paper just don't do it for me any more!

  3. Were we sisters in another life? My Mom, too, made me take a typing class at that age—I think I was about to go to 7th grade, and I learned on a typewriter. Is there something lost, from key to touchpad, or is it a different feeling? My 6 year old niece types with two fingers on her DS system. Things change in leaps and bounds, but for some things-grid paper and my favorite pen—old school until they stop selling the ink.