The Typewriter

6 11 2009

Category: Humour

My niece saw an old typewriter I had and couldn’t get her head around what it was and why anyone would have come up with such a thing. The following is to try to explain…

typewriter

The Typewriter

You can understand why people got bored of writing. It takes ages and used to be incredibly messy, with ink all over the place. So they came up with the typewriter, which thumped letters on the page instead of messily scratching them. For years and years those were the only options; write it or thump it.

By the time I was growing up someone else had added an electric motor. You plugged it in and turned it on and it did pretty much everything a computer nowadays does; except all the things a computer does. It had a keyboard and you had to hit it a bit less hard than a manual typewriter; those are the only similarities to a computer. Thump, Thump, Thump, yawn. Thumping letters on a page.

Usually those letters werenʼt even in the right order – who gets it 100% right with a computer? No big deal – just hit backspace or delete. Not with a typewriter. All that sucker does is thump letters on a page. Then one day an American lady invented Tipp Ex.

White gunk in a bottle with a little brush built into the lid. People thought it was the best invention since the wheel. It would leave crusty white scabs on the page and wouldnʼt dry properly and the bottle got all caked up and you got this white stuff all over your hands. What does it tell you about the world back then that the invention of this gunk brought joy to millions?

Thereʼs another thing about Tipp Ex; if you ever mention it to old people they say that the son of the woman who invented it was in a band called the Monkees – try it; they canʼt help themselves. Why thatʼs important to old people I donʼt know, but it is.

They werenʼt done with typewriter inventions – they had another ace still to come. First someone invented a machine you thumped that put letters on a page; then someone put a motor in so you didnʼt have to thump as hard; then some lady who had a kid who twenty years later joined a rock band invented some white gunk that splodged on the page, over your hands and clothes and gummed up the innards of the typewriter; then…the golfball.

If people got excited about the other stuff, the golfball was a cause for street parties. Hereʼs what happened. IBM got the cleverest people in the world together, from all the universities, from NASA, the United Nations and they said to them – make the machine that thumps letters on a piece of paper better.

selectric

Iʼm not sure what went wrong. Maybe they asked too many people, maybe they were all very smart but in the wrong way, maybe the guy in charge was senile, but hereʼs what they did. They took the typewriter and made it three times as big, they made a casing from old railway sleepers and they put in the engine from a nuclear powered submarine.

golfballThen they took away all the metal arms with the letters on and replaced them with a ball with all the letters on. When you hit the key the ball spun round to the right letter and smacked it on the piece of paper with enough force to split any atoms dumb enough to get in the way. Even when it wasnʼt typing it made a noise like a Jumbo jet about to take off.

When it was typing, it sounded like an army of lumberjacks who had found a great patch of trees and wanted to turn them into matches before some other army of lumberjacks found them. And when you took the piece of paper out of the machine the letters were pressed through so it was like Braille from the back and the full stops were holes in the page.

They thought that was progress – the other companies that made machines to thump letters on pages rushed out their own machines which thumped louder, harder, more noisily, and in a pointlessly different way. Machines like the daisywheel. It was loud, it thumped who cared? But they did – television shows, magazines the newspapers. People cared about these things.

Then some people realised that theyʼd pretty much done all they could with a machine that thumped letters on a piece of paper and started working on much more useful stuff like space dust and tamagochi.

© Sam Green

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