posted by Joe Anaya on August 8th, 2011

My kid was playing a computer game and I heard frustrated moaning and groaning. “This computer is too slow.” I ignore his general complaint. “Dad, I can’t play this game. The computer doesn’t go fast enough.” I give my best dad shrug, “Yep.” “We need a new computer.” This comment sets me off into the thing I swore to myself I’d avoid, the lecture that starts off with the dreaded words, “When I was a kid…” The speech came pouring out of my mouth before he had a chance to retract his comment. It went something like this.

A faster computer? When I was a kid, we had things called typewriters. And these stamp like levers called keys would whack down on a ribbon filled with ink. The stamp would make a mark on the paper. But if you made a mistake, you had to pull out the paper and start retyping the whole page again. Or if you were lucky, you had this white paint and you would paint over the mistake. Blow on it so it would dry quickly. Then try to line up your paper exactly where it was. Then start typing again. “That’s because you didn’t have electricity when you were a kid,” is shot at me.

Pressing on, we made our own margins. If you didn’t notice the bell ring when you got near the end of a line, you usually ended up with a stray line poking way out past the others and ridiculously close to the edge of the paper. And you had to decide whether it was a mistake big enough to meet the retyping-the-whole-page criteria.

There was no cut and paste. If you found a better way to write something, you just ripped out the paper and started typing all over again. Or you said, “Screw it. It’s good enough,” and kept on typing. My son throws out, “Was this before or after you walked 10 miles through the snow to school.”

And if you wanted to have copies, it was a whole other thing. By the time I was in college, it was easy to find a copy machine. But when I was a kid, you had to have this sheet of film with ink on the back, called carbon paper. You had to line up your paper, the carbon paper, then an extra piece of paper for the copy and roll all three into the roller and start typing. Of course if you made a mistake, you had to do two paint jobs. (By the way, that’s where the notation cc came from. Someone else was getting a Carbon Copy.) If you wanted more than one copy, you had to use a ditto machine. A loud drum that cranked around and spit out damp pieces of  paper that smelled funny. “Now you’re just making stuff up.”

There was no automatic spell-checker or grammar-check. My spell checker was my big sister. And I often had to beg or bribe her to bother with reading my stuff. You have no idea how easy you have it. So, I don’t want to hear about how many nano-seconds slow your computer is.

And with an indignant huff, I turned and left the room, knowing my speech meant as much to him as my dad’s speech about how we didn’t need a color TV, a microwave oven or even an “electric” typewriter.

File Under King of the Castle, Mr. Cool