Saturday, February 25, 2012
Now Is The Time
Back then we typed on something called a typewriter. The thing had a long horizontal roller, in what was called a carriage, that you could vertically insert paper behind and roll the paper so that it was facing you. On the left side of the carriage was a shaped metal rod sticking out. So when I typed each letter, the carriage would slowly move from right to left, and when it would go no further I could reach up and whack the metal rod which would move the carriage back to its starting position. The result was that I would type one line, whip the carriage back and begin another line.
One line doesn't necessarily mean one sentence -- it could be many sentences, or an incomplete sentence. It was simply a finite number of typing spaces. There is one sentence that could exactly fit into those finite spaces.
Now is the time for all good men to come to the aid of their country.
You cannot imagine how fast I just now typed that sentence -- at least three times faster than normal. There is a reason for this. During that typing class so long ago, I was required to type that sentence over and over a thousand times. That sequence of keys is locked into my finger's memory.
In 1867 Mr. Charles Weller presented a variant of that sentence as a good typing exercise in his book Typing Test. The actual sentence was: Now is a good time for all good men to come to the aid of their party. Somewhere along the way, country was substituted for party.
We used manual typewriters in that typing class. This meant that the power that made the thing work was the power of your fingers. When one pressed on a key, a little arm with the corresponding letter would whip up and whack a little carbon ribbon that stretched in front of the paper. The end of the arm would smack the ribbon against the paper, and magically the letter would be imprinted in the paper. We found that each key had a separate corresponding arm with a unique letter on the end of it.
That seems kind of stupid and clumsy when I think about it.
We all know what a QWERTY keyboard is -- the first six letters on the keyboard. Most assume that the keyboard is designed this way because it allows for some kind of natural positioning. Not true.
The original typewriter keyboard looked like this:
3 5 7 9 N O P Q R S T U V W X Y Z
2 4 6 8 . A B C D E F G H I J K L M
If you investigate this a little you will discover there is no 1 or 0. Actually there is. The letter I would serve as the 1 and the letter O would serve as the 0. You will also notice that after the numbers in the bottom row we see the alphabet beginning as we know it and it is continued on the top row. It is pretty logical and makes sense that the keyboard would mimic the alphabet.
But those damn women screwed the notion up. I noticed in that typing class that the women flew past us hapless guys in typing speed. They would whiz along like lightning while I sat there trying to find the k key. This is a natural woman thing. Their brains are not only attuned to shaming men at every opportunity, but they have a natural affinity for keyboarding.
Well, this was true even way back in beginning typewriting times. When those women whipped along at breakneck speed on that alphabetic keyboard, the silly machine couldn't keep up. Remember, ever key had a corresponding arm with a letter on it that had to fly up and hit the ribbon and paper. Well, those fast women (are you a fast woman?) had those little arms flying so fast that they would jam up -- two or three arms trying to hit the ribbon at the same time.
When the typewriter came out it was greeted with skepticism. Anything typewritten was rude and impersonal. Actually it was viewed as an affront to receive a typewritten message. It sorta' implied that the recipient was incapable of reading handwritten text. Besides typewriters were mechanical devices and therefore could be manipulated by unscrupulous merchants. And to top it off, putting a mechanical machine between a customer and employees destroyed the personal touch. And then there was the conspiracy theory. It was a machine and suspected therefore that anything typed on it was somehow secreted away where others could read it. This was a privacy concern -- and we still have those concerns today.
In the 1880's, women worked in factories and mills. As the notion of truly legible data gain acceptance women snuck right in to the clerical arena. (Remember that natural affinity of women to type fast and shame men?) Oh, another minor point -- women were paid much less than men and might have had something to do with it too. In 1881 the YWCA offered the first typing school -- and this brought typing into the mainstream.
This is all about the evolution of the idea of typing. I learned to type in typing class on a QWERTY keyboard of a mechanical typewriter. It wasn't too many years later that electric typewriters evolved. To type, you didn't have to bang down on a key to type a letter -- you could just lightly touch it and electrons would flow every which way which somehow ended up with the letter ending up on the paper. Those little typing arms disappeared because they were too cumbersome and were replaced by the IBM typing ball. This little ball had all of the letters on them and would whip around at a dizzying speed as you typed. My favorite invention was correction tape. If you made a mistake you could retype your error holding the little correction tape against the paper and your errors would disappear, then you would retype the whole thing correctly. I used a lot of that correction tape. Then someone got smart and embedded correction tape into the typewriter which made error correction a whole lot simpler.
I was driving to work the other day and out of the blue that sentence came to mind. As I thought about Now is the time for all good men to come to the aid of their country, my fingers would sort of automatically tap it out on the steering wheel. I thought about the sentence and acknowledged that it was kind of sexist -- but also a bit universal. Why? Where did it come from? Now you know.