Through college, I worked as tech support for the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh journalism department. I was an education major, but looking back on it, a lot of that job and that department rubbed off on me. One of my favorite professors in the journalism department would still have his students lay out pages by cutting and pasting articles with a scissors and rubber cement. He often complained that with tools like modern computers and page layout, most of his students never appreciated how much easier their craft had become. I think that’s even truer with my students, many of whom have never seen a TV screen that was not flat, never dialed a rotary phone, and never had to be taught how a tape player worked.
But if I learned one lesson in that job, it was to hold on to those old tools of the trade. You never know when they might come in handy.
I still have two manual typewriters. One is my grandmother’s Underwood typewriter that she used as the accountant for the Richland Dairy Co-op. It’s made of black rubber, enamel, and cast iron; a hundred years old and still working fine. The other is a portable Olympia typewriter that I got for $10 at Goodwill. It’s in mint condition with the original manual and cleaning kit. I keep the Olympia around specifically to punish students who misbehave on the computers, but it doesn’t work.
They like my typewriter too much.
A week ago I was short on computers due to MAPS testing taking over the labs. And being short on netbooks, kids had to use my typewriter for our exercise in writing an outline. They loved it. They loved the click and clack of it, the little bell that rang, the instant-printing that went along with it. For them, it must have seemed like some kind of noisy metal computer with a printer attached to it! It was not long before a team of boys were huddled around the machine, giving pointers to the person doing the typing. For once, my boys were having to think every keystroke through before they punched a key and it became a team effort to avoid mistakes in spelling or format.
They walked away with a sense of wonder about how the machine worked, and more importantly, an appreciation for how wonderful a tool a computer is. How many of the things like underlining, centering, and justification are taken for granted? The other day a student asked me if he could use my “old-fashioned metal computer.” My old professor friend would be proud.