Friday, September 01, 2006

"Me code pretty one day."

(With apologies to David Sedaris and my brother.)

Word-processing software came into its own just as I was figuring out how to construct an undergraduate essay (or a short story, for that matter). I can clearly recall the night my friend and his fancy-pants PC introduced me to WordStar 2.0. Kids these days, with their text-messaging and the Google and whatnot, have no idea what was required for undergraduate essay writing a mere (*cough*) 20 years ago.

First, there was the research: shlepping to the library and digging out the half-dozen available books on your subject matter, the contents of which your prof had no doubt committed to memory. There followed notes, and an outline (I'm sure the kids and I are on the same page, here – right?). When that was done, you wrote out your entire essay by hand. Once you had a suitably impressive sheaf of scrawled paper (scarred with pen-strokes, blots and revisions), you breathed a quick prayer that you'd met the word-count. Then you brewed up a fresh pot of coffee, unpacked the half-tonne "portable typewriter" your father used for his thesis, and got to work. Typing. Carefully. Retracing your steps and whiting out your errors, one freakin' letter at a time. Then typing over that, taking a deep breath, and proceeding with the rest of the paper in the absurd hope this never happened again. And that was just for the little mistakes. If you somehow missed a significant, last-minute revision (not an uncommon occurrence for me), you had to discard all the pages affected by the omitted text, and re-start from where you'd screwed up.

Now here was WordStar. With a feature called Spell-Check (sure, it was American english – but still). "Also," said my friend, "you can erase entire words just by hitting Control/Backspace, or Control/Delete." Entire words! "Or blocks of text, by highlighting, then hitting Delete." Blocks of text!! "There's also a cut-and-paste option..."

You've seen those kids who show up and play with your kids, then when it's time to go home, they don't want to leave your house without their favourite toy? Well...

I was still living at home, and attending the local university. My father had expressed interest in getting a home computer, so he and I hit the road and inspected one fly-by-night-PC-clone-outfit after another, until we were satisfied that Outfit X was the one for our purposes. He signed the cheque for it, we brought it home and I set it up.

The idea was, of course, that I would teach him how to use it. This was very much pre-Windows – the day of the DOS-line. Using the word-processor to type was no problem, but command lines were another matter. I can't remember just what we were trying to get the printer to do, but the image that sticks in my head is of my frustrated father, standing over the printer and pressing the "print" button, applying an ever-increasing amount of pressure on that one crummy button with every failed operation.

That image stays top-of-mind whenever I call my brother to bail me out of some mess I've made with Linux. So long as he's chuckling to himself after hanging up the phone, I'm sure I'm safe. But this leads me to...

7 comments:

Andrew said...

Kids these days, eh? I'd like to see 'em try to get by with an IBM Selectric, as I did in my early days of journalism (high school and junior college). Damn spoiled brats with their fancy schmancy laptops and PDAs, IMing across the globe in their cryptic shorthand and emoticons. I wish they'd get off my lawn.

AC

DarkoV said...

My friend,
I shed no tears and I've got my Empath-o-meter off.
Coming from the college days when a six-pack referred to 6 pint bottles of White-Out and the snazziest version of an instrument for writing college essays/papers was an electric Olympia typewriter, just the phrase "word processing software" gives me goosepimples.

When you've gone through a pint of White-Out ('cuz those damn typewriter ink erasers are only good for putting holes in paper) for a 20 page paper, the most primitive software was a cosmic dream out of our reach. Yeah, I love the sound of manual typewriters and the hum of an electric one, but I'd never ever want ot go back to that world again. What a waste of life that was.

Katie said...

And darn those light pencil marks which were to demarcate the footer of the page. I swear they temporarily erased themselves just to make me miss them.

Trent Reimer said...

The funny thing is I remember WP being the only computer literate in the house, eventually followed by my younger sister. Alas that DOS box inspired so much trepidation I eventually decided I hated computers.

Whisky Prajer said...

"...the only computer literate in the house..." And how sad was that?!

Robin said...

Here from Dan's shop and I couldn't help commenting on this one. Ah........the memories :).

We didn't even own a typewriter, I had to go to the university library and chuck quarters in to keep it going (or beg and borrow from a friend). I learned to type FAST and am ever-indebted to 9th grade teacher Mrs. Pearson, who clocked me at over 100 wpm w/three errors on a good day. My kids cannot get their minds around this one--"NO COMPUTERS??!" with looks of horror and pity upon their wee faces.

I used to speak DOS and remember my early resistance to Windows, although now I can't figure out WHY I'd resist life getting easier....

Whisky Prajer said...

"100 WPM, 3 errors"?! Did I read that right?!?

Funny how our typing teachers probably had the largest direct effect on us in the long run. Both my brother and I failed our classes, and smugly assured our typing teachers we would never have use for such skills. I truly hope these (now retired) people are chuckling with satisfaction at the way things turned out.