I had a video conference call with Mrs. Soto’s fourth-grade class this morning. I wore a tie for old times’ sake. Although I have always looked ridiculous in neckties.
I discussed the art of creative writing. I covered topics like essays, grammar and how I learned to use a manual typewriter in Mister Edmund’s typing class back in 1807.
Eight-year-old Akin raised his hand and asked, “Wait. What’s a typewriter?”
I found myself smiling, loosening my necktie, because at this moment I felt about as old as the Giza Pyramids.
“You’ve never heard of a typewriter?” I asked the Future of America.
Most kids hadn’t.
I couldn’t believe this. Which got me thinking about all the other things Mrs. Soto’s kids probably never heard of, for instance, Garfunkel.
And what about Rand McNally maps? I’d like to know where those went. You can’t even buy them in gas stations anymore.
I believe maps are superior to GPS systems. Maps never recalculate, never screw up, there are no batteries, no connective errors, no robotic voices that sound like Jacques Cousteau on horse tranquilizers.
Sure with paper maps people often got lost in the wilderness, but only a small percentage of these people actually died.
So it was hard for the fourth-graders to believe that I still use an archaic device like a typewriter, but it’s true. And for anyone in Mrs. Soto’s class who is reading this column (for extra credit), I will tell you why.
For writers, the typewriter serves a sound professional purpose. And I’ll illustrate my point by telling you exactly how I wrote this column:
First, I sat down.
Next, I fired up my laptop, which is connected to the vastness of the internet.
I ate Fritos.
Then I cracked my knuckles. I started typing with greasy fingers.
Before I finished my first paragraph, I already had a problem because I knew I wanted to talk about Rand McNally roadmaps. So I opened an internet browser and did a search.
There went 13 hours of my day.
My simple search took me to huge online map databases. Which led me to (why not?) a hydrological survey of Utah. Which led to fascinating articles about Mormon beliefs regarding undergarments. Which ultimately led to a video of a cat wearing men’s underpants and riding a raft in a pool. After this I took a nap.
So I think I’ve proved my point.
But with typewriters, you don’t get distracted. You sit down; you write. No interruptions. That’s why I sometimes use them. Although not as often as I should.
As a kid we all used typewriters. And as I said earlier, we attended mandatory typing classes, too. I told this to Mrs. Soto’s class and was greeted with snickers.
The Brilliant Minds of Tomorrow responded with: “Typing CLASSES? But why?”
Then everyone openly laughed.
It’s been a long time since a body of fourth-graders ganged up on me.
Mrs. Soto’s class then informed me that today’s kids don’t need typing instruction; they’ve been typing on standard keyboards since they were ovums. Many toddlers can already type 7,000 words per minute.
Well, good for them. Because once upon a time we pre-computer generations learned the QWERTY keyboard on corroded manual typewriters in Mister Edmund’s class. These machines had crusty ink ribbons that hadn’t been replaced since the Eisenhower administration.
Which was also approximately the same era when Mister Edmund last bathed—this man’s tailwind could knock a toad off a gut wagon.
We kids would spend entire class periods doing typing drills which consisted of tapping out nonsensical practice sentences like:
“The quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog.”
“Now is the time for all good men to come to the aid of the party.”
“Mister Edmund has thermonuclear b.o.”
Sadly, typewriters, maps, and lots of other cool things are now considered obsolete, and I for one am against this. Namely, because old stuff frequently outperforms, outdoes, and outclasses “emerging technology.” This, in a nutshell, is why I am crazy about antiques.
So I’m running out of room here, but I’ll finish by saying that if by chance Mrs. Soto’s class is still reading this, and has somehow maintained consciousness, I want you to know that there is magic in old things.
You can’t find this charm in glowing monitors or phone screens. You can, however, find it in an antique store. Which is why I encourage all Mrs. Soto’s kids to go mess around with some real antiquities.
Get your hands dusty. Hold a paper map. Flip through the pages of a Norman Rockwell compilation book. Try on old hats. Wear wire-rimmed spectacles. Borrow your grandmother’s Smith Corona manual typewriter. Do it while you can. Do it while your grandmother is still here.
Because each year your childhood will get further away. And someday you’ll end up speaking to a class of cheerfully curious fourth-graders who will make you feel like Methuselah’s great-uncle when they giggle at you.
Then again, maybe they were laughing at my tie.
Sean Dietrich is a columnist and novelist known for his commentary on life in the American South. He has authored nine books and is the creator of the “Sean of the South” blog and podcast. The views and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the policy or position of 1819 News. To comment, please send an email with your name and contact information to Commentary@1819News.com.
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