QWERTY and all that.

Hankz

I am writing this on my iPad and on a manual typewriter — at the same time.  I downloaded a new app developed by, of all people, Tom Hanks, that impish lover of World War II. It make my iPad into a virtual manual typewriter with clickety-clacking keys, a carriage return, and paper that slowly furls the page up as I write.  The idea is to give writers the sense of rhythm that come form typing, a focus on the act itself, and  a sense of progress and productivity.   It’s quite soothing and makes immediately think of when I first had this experience,

It’s astonishing, considering how lousy a typist I am, that I have been pounding a keyboard since I was in elementary school.  My family always had typewriters around, in my parents’ study at home, in their offices at the university, or in my grandparents’ medical practice.  I got one of my own to play with before I was  teen ager, a manual Smith Corona, then  I saved up to buy an Olivetti Lexikon 83DL that was in the MOMA design collection and was grey and orange and super sexy.

This app I am using lets me zoom around my document, hopping up and down with arrow keys and highlighting sections to delete.  That’s a feature I can turn off, however, so I can return to those dark days when I was stuck with every letter I mistyped. Back in the day, to deal with my inevitable plague of typos, I used a typewriter eraser, a round thing with a plastic brush for wiping away the crumbs.  And Liquid Paper which I consumed by the gallon. It also came with little plastic brush to apply the opaque paint in little dabs.

This app lacks a few other features I remember. Like the way the keys would tangle together if I hit several at the same time in my zeal to get the words down. I used carbon paper if I thought there was any reason to have more than one copy of what I wrote.  When I worked for my local paper I would write on rough yellow paper and type —30— at the end of each article.

But I always hankered for an IBM Selectric, which had the backspacing correction function and used a little golf ball with different exchangeable typefaces, like “Orator”.

Then, when I got my first job as a writer, there was an actual  Selectric at my desk.  I felt I had arrived. But within a year or two, I had my first word processor, a TRS-80, and I could save my articles onto cassette tapes, reformat them, backspace away typos virtually, and write wand write without ever having to roll in  another sheet of onionskin paper.

I have written on so many things in my life — notebooks, legal pads, index cards, pages torn from the ends of paperbacks and the corners of newspapers, on laptops, desktops, phones, tablets…  Each new tool arrives with a fanfare, but they were all peripheral to the real tool, the one resting between my ears that has not yet been replaced.  I work everyday to upgrade it — with reading, living, thinking, and pounding on whatever keys are at hand.

34 thoughts on “QWERTY and all that.”

  1. I hear that! I got a funky word processor for college that typed on that weird original fax-type paper. It was great except that by the time I’d hand in my essays, the ink would disappear. Here’s to iPads and Macbooks-
    Great post.

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  2. Nice Danny! The unique tool is the pen isn’t it? It’s like a bicycle we can’t replace it! 🙂
    Anyway thats the fastest, the more reliable and it’s always there, wy never have to upgrade it!
    thats my feeling.
    Renata

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  3. After all these years QWERTY has not changed but the method of typing has changed. Now it’s all thumbs, composed of phonetic spelling. Isn’t that Gr8! LOL :)….

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  4. I’ve moved through all the writing tools, as you have, lusting after the Selectric as well. But, as Renata said, I always come back to the feel of pen on paper. But, this app sounds like fun and I’m gonna check it out!

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  5. You have rekindled the typewriter memories in many of us with this musing Danny…and I rue the fact that I just wrote this comment on an iPad (silenced from its little unappealing keyboard sounds)…I should head to the basement and bring the little Smith Corona out of mothballs 🙂

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  6. Oh Danny, great minds and all that? I got this app myself just a couple of days ago and I just love it! Have no idea what I am going to use it for but it’s all that you said – the memories of using this type (no pun intended) of thing and the noise of the keys and the carriage return… But yes, I was wondering if the keys would all jam together in a mess too! And if you save the document and send it to someone it still looks like it does on the screen. Fantastic, thank you for posting about this!

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  7. I found “hanx writer” app just the other day and “pure happiness” hearing that little “ding” at the end of the margin. How fun is that! Funny, I thought I had made it when I took a job in a hospital typing Xray reports on an IBM Selectric! HAHAHAHA! Thanks for the post Danny! Keep ’em comin’!

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  8. What a riot!!! Just the other day I was at an estate sale contemplating the purchase of an old manual typewriter. I chose to leave it behind, along with the dried out ribbon and dust. But for a brief moment I envisioned myself clickety, clacking away as I tapped out the next chapter of my book. Ah… the joy of not seeing a red jagged line calling out my misspellings and grammar mistakes. It sounds like Mr. Hanks’ app is just what I need. What’s lacking is the pressure on the keys needed to actually have a letter show on the page.

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  9. I was hot stuff when my grandmother gave me an electric typewriter with interchangeable catridges for eraser tape and colored ribbons as a high school graduation gift. Earned a Bachelor Degree on it.

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  10. I’m gonna download the hanx writer right now. Thanks for sharing your new toy, Danny. As for me, I’ve found myself drawn powerfully and inexplicably to the #2 pencil–General’s has the best, been around forever and with one of those noble, salt-of-the-earth company stories–they take great pride in their products. Low maintenance, inexpensive, smooth on the page. And oh just your mention of onion skin paper brings me back in the best way.

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  11. I downloaded it a few days ago, too. Tom Hanks is my age and I think we’re all getting a little nostalgic. I remember taking typing classes in summer school at 16. The girl next to me was working on being a pro piano player and she surpassed everyone in speed. The two best things my mom made me do were typing class and piano lessons. Closely related, I think!

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  12. What memories this post evokes! That huge black typewriter in junior high typing class where we typed “the big brown bear jumped over the lazy fox” a jillion times! Yes, messy carbon paper, liquid correction fluid, or that white tape you had to line up over the word and type over it; much later commuting to college classes, coming home and sitting on my front porch with electric typewriter with extension cord where I wrote/typed my papers. And retyped, and retyped until I got something clean enough to hand in! Kids have it so much easier today with computers!
    But thanks for the memories!

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  13. What a memory trip. Learned on a Royal manual in HS, typed on an IBM carriage typewriter while going to college, (worked in a law office); then used the IBM executive carriage typewriter that had multiple units per letter – one for i, 5 for capital M, etc — beautiful type but a bear to correct, — often had to start wills over again ’cause no errors allowed! Finally got a selectric, and, on and on, through mag cards, mag tapes, etc., to today. No longer “have to” type, just play at typing on my iPad. I will definitely get the Hanks app, just for the fun of it. But typing aside, thank you for always filling the space between our ears with food for thought.

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  14. I remember the day I left home for university in September of 1965 and my parents presented me with a Remington portable in a shiny blue case. I felt so proud and grown up! My dorm mates and I would pull “all-nighters” around a big table in the common room, smoking, drinking gallons of coffee, with the clickety-clacking of 7 or 8 typewriters assaulting our ears until dawn.
    Oh, the sweet memories of youth!

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  15. Turns out that typing was one of the most useful classes I took in High School. The IBM selectric was my favorite.What price progress??

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  16. I too miss the rhythm of the clackety clack of the keys and that thrum as the roller drum was pushed back for a new line. I used a manual typewriter until my postgraduate years and even all this time on my husband still has to point out that I am hitting the keyboard keys too hard. Must be my hands and fingers get nostalgic. If I owned an iPad I think I would be downloading that app.

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  17. Give me a keyboard any day… my career in the past was secretarial. I started with an Imperial manual typewriter and worked my eay through all the new inventions over the years. In one of my jobs I was typing 50 page contracts with two carbon copies which underwent constant amendments. There are only so many layers of Tippex (Snowpake actually for me in those days) that you can apply before the surface becomes too raised to the on and the whole thing needs to be retyped. I now have a computer with a keyboard which I get on with just fine… and I love my Ipad to bits… but typing on an Ipad and I am poking with two fingers instead of my usual fast flowing touch typing. Just the heat of my finger near the wrong key or too close to the adjacent key turns my Ipad script into unreadable nonsence… and don’t get me started on auto correct…..!

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  18. Love it, Danny! Yes, the letters and the sound and even the smell of the ink tape just is not on my iPad! LOL! I remember that in a high school typing class I had regular typos down the page! The boy who sat next to me was a very stressed guy and he would bang the carriage return so hard I would make a mistake! Hadn’t thought about that in years! Happy typing to you!

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  19. Yep, I am old enough to know what cut & paste REALLY means. My senior year of college, end of the ’70s, I treated myself to having three major papers typed for me. Best money I ever spent. At my school, you could not have any white out or correction key (if you were lucky enough to have one) mark on the page. Dark days indeed! I do like the idea of the sound though. I even have “music” of Typing.

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  20. enjoyed your reflection – and it reminded me of some of the advanced machines I used in the late 80’s – and the app sounds cool – I heard that Tom Hanks has a nice typewriter collection and so it is not surprising that he would design such an app. I also have an old heavy weight black typewriter sitting in the attic – and one day hope to do something with it. anyhow, hope you are adjusting to the east coast – ❤

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  21. Three or four years ago, I was sitting in a doctor’s waiting room and I heard the clickety-clack of a typewriter. At first I thought no, it can’t be. But it sure sounded like a typewriter. Finally, I asked the receptionist and she said yes it was. Well, I just had to go back and check it out. Sure enough someone was typing away on an IBM Selectric. Couldn’t believe it. She told me the biggest challenge was getting ribbons but she had stocked up by buying cases of them. Too retro!

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  22. My parents forced me to take ty,ping in high school too. It got me kicked out of the Beta Club cause it affected my grade that much. I would sit there and get all confused with the piano, trying to make music with qwerty.

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  23. Having taken typing in school back in the 50’s, I had no idea then I would still be typing today, I have also moved through many many forms. Like you I also used the TRS-80 in its day, & still have it today, but it was the floppy disk version. Using Scripsit, the in memory word processor of theirs, I wrote an entire operational manual of several hundred pages. It was so much easier than my “old” typewriter of the day. I also still have the first typewriter my new wife, at the time, & I purchased. A Hermes script portable one that actually type in script format. It was purchased in the very early 60’s for a few hundred dollars. At the time that was several months rent just to have a perspective. Now typing is just so much easier, this reply box is just one example, with spell check, etc. We still need to be wary of correctly, but misused, words since they seem to escape detection. Some readers might find the history of the Qwerty keyboard interesting & that is now on the internet as well. Another keyboard that has almost completely been ignored is the Dvorak one developed by the military during WWII. A much better mouse trap but Qwerty, like so many other things, just seems to own the market regardless of how much better another item may be. Soon even typing will be a thing of the past as speech recognition becomes easier to use & more reliable. When that day comes we will no longer require the “huge” data entry device known as the keyboard to accommodate our over sized fingers & the race to ever smaller devices will be on the run again. BTW the “new wife” of earlier looks just as beautiful today as when we first met in high school as we head for our 75th & beyond.

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