October 4, 2012

On hunting and pecking

I WAS JUST SITTING HERE wondering what I could write about boats when it occurred to me I should be writing about typing.

My grandson is being taught to type at school. “You just line up the B with your belly button,” he tells me, pointing to the keyboard, “and then you put your hands here.”

A computer is teaching him this. It tells him when he makes mistakes and it awards him marks when he does things right.

I was old enough to vote before I could type. All through my years in school I got along quite nicely by holding a pointed thing in my hand and writing words down on paper. But for today’s young scholar, touch-typing is part of the electronic revolution. Computers demand it. 

When I was about 20 I got a job as a reporter and was sent off to a college for cadet journalists. There, 15 or so of us, all men, were confronted by a very patient lady from the local typing school, and a host of battered typewriters.

Now, I have to tell you that we men thought touch-typing was a bit sissy, and the faster and better you typed, the more sissified you were. We did have enough sense to learn sufficient touch-typing to pass the tests, but as soon as we got back to our respective newspapers all over the country, we stopped touch-typing and went back to our former tough-guy ways of hunting and pecking with two fingers.

Two-finger typing was OK. We figured if cowboys typed, they’d use two fingers. James Bond, too. And just in case anyone had any doubts about our masculinity, we used really bad swearwords while we typed, and smoked like crazy. Unfiltered cigarettes, of course.

Having to type your stories was the biggest drawback to reporting. There was always that little nagging feeling that typing was women’s work. In those days, typists sat in typing pools, occasionally exposing their legs to be admired when manly reporters walked past. I know this isn’t politically correct now but it was condoned then by everyone except a small and vociferous band of women journalists who were busy trying to get the editor to change the name of the Women’s Pages to Lifestyle. I’m not saying any of this was right or wrong. I’m just reporting the facts.

There was one big advantage to two-finger typing. It created a mechanical barrier between your brain and your fingertips, a microsecond in which you could exercise some critical judgment and editing before the words spilled out onto the paper. It resulted in shorter, snappier, more logical stories, we felt, and earned us the love and respect of the copy editors.

There was a woman reporter on one paper I worked for who could type like greased lightning. When she sat down behind her Underwood her fingers were a blur, a sort of fleshy haze of furious motion, and the typefaces actually whistled through the air before crashing into the paper like tiny meteorites. But we men reporters were not in the least bit jealous of her proficiency because the copy editors hated her.

Her thoughts just poured straight out of her fingertips in torrents uninterrupted by logic or brevity. Her stories were always too long and rambling. You could hear the groans from the copy editors’ room when a story of hers reached them, and some poor copy editor had to slash and patch for 20 minutes while the air turned blue around him.

I fear for what’s happening today. If computers are teaching boys that there’s no shame in touch-typing, the world of written words is about to be flooded with unrestrained verbiage. Maybe it is already. I’m sure glad I’m not a copy editor.

Today’s Thought
If there’s a hole in a’ your coats,
I rede you tent it:
A chield’s amang you takin’ notes,
And faith he prent it.
— Robert Burns, On the Late Captain Grose’s Peregrinations Thro’ Scotland

“What did you get your girl friend for her birthday?”
“I gave her a bikini.”
“Why a bikini?”
“I’m hoping to see her beam with delight.”

(Drop by every Monday, Wednesday, Friday for a new Mainly about Boats column.)

1 comment:

KevinH said...

O.K. So let's see now. If you can type you're a good sailor, - -no that can't be it. All sailors are great typists? No that doesn't fit either. Mediocre typists can sail boats? Hmm, getting closer. There must be a connection to the briney here somewhere. !