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Dinosaur moment

The phrase “senior moment” has always irritated me. It offends me that the inability to remember things becomes some sort of age-specific problem.

I know plenty of people younger than I am who, under pressure, cannot remember their home phone numbers, blood types, or the birthdays of their major children. The “senior moment” happens to 15-year-olds, and it’s nothing to worry about.

I am far more concerned about something I’m going to call the “dinosaur moment.”

The dinosaur moment is not what happens when you find yourself standing on the back deck holding a hacksaw and a bag of turnips, unable to remember why.

The dinosaur moment is when you mention using a typewriter to a room full of twenty-somethings, and they look at you with the same wonder Richard Leaky must have felt when he held the oldest known Homo habilis skull.

Suddenly, you are older than a dried-up bottle of Wite-Out.

My students have absolutely no idea what this is like. “You mean, you couldn’t preview it before you printed it?” They ask incredulously. No, you could not, because typing combined writing and printing in one simple action.

What did you do when you made a mistake?” they ask, eyes wide. I tried to explain Wite-Out, erasable bond, and the tried-and-true process of starting the whole thing over.

They boggled at me.

It occurs to me that I am a walking history of non-handheld word-creating technology. One of my earliest memories involves using my mother’s manual typewriter, something I was forbidden to do, and my sister ratting me out. “Mom! Janet’s got pink on her hands!” “Pink” was my sister’s version of “ink,” and I did indeed have it on my hands and everywhere else, since Mom’s typewriter had an old ribbon that could be re-inked and was a nightmare of drips and squiggles.

Eventually I was allowed to use my grandfather’s Underwood Upright, an elegant and old-fashioned machine that weighed about 60 pounds and rattled alarmingly.

The keys were arranged in a semi-circle, and typing with any speed at all resulted in a wad of letters, hovering above the paper. I adored it. I also adored the electric typewriter I used in college, a machine whose irritable hum was the background music of my senior year.

By the time I graduated and had my first newspaper job, technology had advanced to the “word processor” stage.

These were machines with little green screens, on which our words would scroll until somebody from the back would yell, “Shutdown coming!” and the whole thing would go blank, taking with it an entire Board of Supervisors’ meetings and several obituaries.

It was better than a typewriter, but far less reliable. Some members of the newspaper staff were legendary for holding off the editors with variations on the theme of “The story was ALMOST done, and then it disappeared.”

Eventually, “word processor” came to mean the computer program by which one puts pixilated words on virtual paper. To those of us who toiled in the wee hours, retyping pages, this was almost magical.

Accuracy no longer mattered at all. It was just as easy to un-type as to type. To somebody who had to count lines for footnotes and leave space at the bottom of the page, this was like a miracle.

At some point in this trip down memory lane, the twenty-somethings eyes have glazed over. I come back to reality. I don’t have the slightest desire to need Wite-Out again, or to retype draft after draft in search of perfection.

But just for a moment I did feel something like a literary triceratops, sitting in the shade of an ancient Underwood with the deliciously illicit feeling of “pink” on my hands.



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