Old Tech

This past weekend was a “comfort tv” weekend.  After a LOT of hours gardening and then recuperating in my studio while it rained, I was all about watching some of my standard oldies but goodies.

WarGames.  Looking at the technology that was over the top when the movie came out, it’s a little laughable now.  Rotary phones.  Dot matrix printer.  Oh, and Matthew Broderick makes a call from a phone booth.  Except for the ones that they keep around in London for tourist photo ops and the one that Dr. Who uses, are there phone booths anywhere anymore?

Hopscotch.  Walter Matthau types up his anti-CIA memories on an old typewriter, which he drags with him through the movie.  It’s not even an automatic return typewriter.  Phone booths in this movie as well.  Also, all the information on agents and criminals in on paper in a file room: when Matthau shreds his personnel file, they don’t even have a photo of him any longer.

Romancing the Stone.  At least Kathleen Turner is typing on an automatic return typewriter.  There are a few calls from phone booths in this one as well which is interesting since most of the movie takes place in the Colombian jungle.

Jumpin’ Jack Flash.  Whoopi Goldberg works in a bank on a data terminal (not even actually a computer).  She doesn’t have a phone on her desk – although there is one for the whole department of workers that they are only allowed to use in an emergency.  This means she ends up in a phone booth down the street.  (Then she gets dragged in the phone booth all over Manhattan but that’ another segue.)

A few things are clear.  #1. Phone booths and typewriters were clearly a lot more prevalent 30 years ago than they are today.  A bit of research reveals that you can still buy a typewriter (Brother and Royal are the top manufacturers out there) but they’re not a cheap as you would think they would be.   #2. The plots of a lot of the movies I like would really have to be punched up if there weren’t phone booths and typewriters abounding.  #3. All my comfort movies are way too old.

Do you still have a typewriter?  Do you use it?

60 thoughts on “Old Tech”

  1. I had an old manual typewriter back in the early eighties and I quite liked it. I don’t remember what became of it. The last typewriter we bought new was an Olivetti that had a small amount of memory, although I can’t remember how that manifested. It was sort of a missing link between typewriters and computers.

    Old typewriters are appealing. I see them quite often at estate sales, along with old sewing machines. But the last thing I need is another collection, especially of something that takes up as much space as typewriters would. If I were Tom Hanks maybe finding the room for them wouldn’t be a problem. On the other hand, typewriters are the only thing Tom collects, as far as I know. We already have a surfeit of collections.

    A few years ago (pre-Covid), some friends introduced us to a pair of brothers who restore and sell old radios. Many of those are tremendously appealing. I especially respond to the art deco styled ones. The radios have a bluetooth transmitter added, so that one can program whatever one wants through the radios. After buying four of them (we gave on to a daughter), we decided we had enough old radios. That’s not much of a collection.

    Liked by 6 people

    1. I love the look of old radios! I have one of the Crosley reproductions (not the cathedral radio, at least not yet). It was secondhand off Ebay and a little beat-up, but it still looks cool.

      Liked by 3 people

  2. Yes, I have an old Royal typewriter from the 1930s, and no, I don’t use it. I know I should get rid of it, but so far, I haven’t had the heart to part with it.

    Liked by 4 people

  3. I’ve never owned a typewriter myself. My dad had one back in the 60s when he was working on his master’s degree. We kids played around with it sometimes. I loved the rhythmic clicking sounds and would usually just pound out a drumbeat or something with a rhythm just to hear it. Much like the Leroy Anderson “typewriter” song.

    I may have used that typewriter to type up a school assignment or two in HS or college, but that’s about it.

    I tell people who ask that I would most likely not have started writing novels if I had to rely on old technology like typewriters, carbon paper, whiteout, and eraser tape. Books that now take me 2-3 years with word processing and internet research would likely take me three times longer. I wouldn’t have the patience.

    Chris in Owatonna

    Liked by 5 people

      1. Thanks for that spark of memory, Clyde. I always prefer the noisy ones too. When the first word processors came out in he 80s, I was unnerved by the relative silence and lack of resistance when tapping the keys. If I recall, it took a decent amount of finger strength and endurance to type on a manual typewriter for any length of time.


        Liked by 4 people

      2. They were loud and clattery. I learned to type in the 8th grade in a classroom full of manual typewriters. 30 kids. The typing teacher at the front of the room chanting: “aaaa,bbbb.cccc.dddd” and all of us clacking along with her. You could hear that throughout the entire second floor of the Jr. High School. On warm spring and fall days, I am sure the school’s neighbors heard it for a block.

        I often wonder how that scene has ever been depicted in a coming of age movie or TV show. It would have been Wonder Years material.

        Liked by 3 people

        1. I also took typing in eighth grade. I don’t remember how she was teaching but I do remember that there was a huge race track arena made out of construction paper up along the bulletin boards, 6 feet long. Every person had their own little race car with their initials on a little flag stuck into the back and depending on how fast you were typing, your car moved got moved along at the end of each class. You baboons know exactly how competitive I am. And where my car was.

          Liked by 4 people

  4. No typewriter. I got a smart typewriter in about 1980, a sort of computer actually. You recorded your work on very small tape cassettes. I wrote all my own textbooks on that and all my tests and assignments. Transformed my teaching. I spent every June revising in prep for the next year.When we moved here I trashed it, still in excellent working order. In a decade It was powdered to dust by change.
    My first novel captured farm technology of the 1930’s to 40’s but only in secondary ways to the story. For my second novel I had to think carefully about how cell phones impacted lives. In a way it was the motif.
    Then I wrote a series of short stories set in the Arrowhead from about 500 to 2012, but most set from about 1950 to 2015. It made me very aware of how technology made a very large change in culture and daily lives. I made it invasive in some ways. Is it?

    Liked by 5 people

  5. Morning- I have trouble adjusting to all the different size keyboards I use it a day. iPad size, regular keyboard, feels like some laptop computers have middle sizes. Crazy. The little finger bumps for F and J are very useful.

    We still have a big black manual typewriter downstairs. And the electric I received as a graduation present in 12th grade. Haven’t used either for a very long time.

    There is / was a working phone booth in Mabel MN on the side of Main Street. We used it a couple years ago.

    Liked by 4 people

  6. When you think about it, it’s really amazing how much “typing” devices have evolved in our lifetime.

    I learned to type in 1956 on a manual Remington commercial office typewriter. My mother had signed up for an evening class at a local adult education facility, but she chickened out after the first lesson. So as not to have wasted her money, she sent me in her stead. Of course, she never considered that we didn’t have a typewriter, and that I was expected to practice at home. At thirteen, I wasn’t particularly interested in learning how to type, but as it turned out, decent typing skills became a handy tool to have in my toolbox.

    Liked by 2 people

      1. Initially, I drew the keyboard on a piece of paper, and memorized where the letters, numbers, and various punctuation marks were. At that point, my piano lessons were already history, but I had already developed the manual dexterity necessary to type, so that helped. A month or so into the course, mom bought a tiny portable manual typewriter for me. We also didn’t own a piano when she signed me up for piano lessons.

        It’s really funny, now that I think about it, that mom would have ever signed up for a typing course. What was she thinking? She could barely read and write in English, and in Danish she was pretty much hopeless. Obviously, typing was only going to make that more obvious. As long as she was copying text she would have been fine, but typing wasn’t a skill that was going to allow her to get an office job unless she also admitted that she needed to learn to spell. That might have dawned on her during the first class, but it never occurred to me till right now. It really shows the kind of spunk she had. Though some of her schemes weren’t fully thought through, and often turned out to reveal exactly what she was trying to hide, she had an awful lot of chutzpah. She lacked education, no doubt about that, but she had a lot of innate intelligence and a lot of street smarts.

        Liked by 4 people

  7. One of few upsetting memories from my childhood involved a typewriter in 1957.
    But I am sitting on patio with coffee listening to Joshua Bell play Mozart on my wireless headphones and cell phone with me in case of important calls. Before I go in and do an hour of rigorous PT. So I love that tech.

    Liked by 6 people

    1. I did not want to do a trial of Amazon music because I would get hooked. Cheap mother Adeline is still in my head despite good income. But now Amazon has set the hook well. Now I gave 6 month free trial of Apple Music. Nope nope nope

      Liked by 3 people

  8. First, typewrite I remember was at my Aunt Connie’s – it was in the 50s but I’m sure it was an old Remington or something, with the round metal keys. They were out on a “farm”, tiny acreage on the (then) edge of Sioux City, and I wonder what they used it for – though they did have kids in high school.

    We had a more modern manual by the time I was in h.s., but I remember borrowing someone’s Selectric in college for doing papers. My mom used this old thing till they moved out of their house in the mid-90s. I may have borrowed it for a stretch of time now and then, and I remember fixing it once while student teaching.

    But I don’t recall ever owning one. I’m glad for computers and technology to a point, and glad that my keyboard keys click – silence would drive me nuts, I think.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I remember what a hug leap forward in typewriter technology the IBM Selectric was. The element or type ball was quite revolutionary, and it allowed you to change fonts easily. No more jamming of the individual typebars if you typed too quickly.

      Typing was never offered while I went to high school (I graduated in 1959), but I gather that it was offered in American schools. Was it offered to both boys and girls, does anyone know? I’m thinking it might have been considered a female domain back then.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. In the mid-sixties, I’m sure it was offered, but I was not particularly aware of it and, it’s important to remember, typing had specific and limited applications in those days. Likely boys could take the class but few probably did because they didn’t anticipate they would need it.

        The sorts of skills boys were directed toward were already obsolete, for the most part. The shop classes certainly didn’t have practical application except as hobbies. One of my favorite shop classes was a printing class, where we hand set type and printed on platen presses. Both hand set type and platen presses were antique processes at the time. Who knows what the justification for a class like that might have been?

        Liked by 5 people

        1. The shop classes might have been appropriate or useful to our fathers or grandfathers.


  9. Well obviously when you type on a virtual keyboard on an iPad, the only sound comes from the tapping of your fingers on the screen. Like Ben, I have to negotiate several different keyboard sizes in the course of a day. Luckily, I never learned to type properly, so I’m not a touch typist and slow enough that neither the keyboard sizes or the lack of audible feedback is a serious impediment.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. When YA went to middle school, I was very surprised to learn that keyboarding, which is what they call typing class now, was not offered for every student. It was an elective and there weren’t enough spots for every kid in the middle school to actually get this class. It was amazing to me considering how much of our lives are on keyboards now that you wouldn’t help kids learn how to type more accurately and efficiently. I made a big stink and YA got that class.

      Liked by 1 person

  10. My adoptive dad had an old portable manual typewriter with a leather case, left over from his Air Force days. In the 1980s I used it to write my high school papers. I also took a typing class in HS, which in our tiny and poor parochial school was still half manuals and half electrics (I got a C in that class, because my pinkies were too weak for the manual typewriters). In college I got an electronic typewriter, the kind with the plastic ribbon, and around 1992 or 1993, before I graduated, my first PC and printer. Dell, IIRC. My roommate has deep nostalgia for typewriters, so a friend gifted her a big black Remington manual like the one her parents had given her when she was a kid. I’ve thought about taking it down to the typewriter repair place in Richfield, but we’d probably never use it–though I considered it last week when I needed to print some poems and the printer cartridges had all dried up! Those puppies are expensive…

    Liked by 3 people

  11. Despite decades of playing piano without having to look at the keys, I never mastered the typewriter. I do use all my fingers but need to look at the keyboard most of the time while typing. If I only look at the screen, a lot of gibberish shows up. I did own a typewriter (can’t remember what kind but not a Remington) for high school and college. And I have not a clue about what happened to it.

    Liked by 3 people

  12. I had a very old one, the kind with the keys that stick up and you have to hit them hard. There were very long ‘arms’ for each letter that would hit the roller thing. As you can see, I’m really terrible at what things are actually called. Anyway, my family had a white elephant Christmas once and I gave it to my brother to use as a boat anchor.

    Liked by 2 people

  13. OT – What a difference a day makes. Yesterday I had a single daffodil in bloom and a few tulips cautiously considering opening. Today, dozens of both daffodils and tulips in various colors are boldly strutting their stuff.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Yes. It is so great. I am discovering, though, that with Spring flowers come Spring allergens. Until I sneezed. And then I discovered that sneezing causes great pain to a hip replacement. Who knew?

      Liked by 2 people

  14. I had my own typewriter when I went to college. It was a manual. I was a good writer and a good paper writer, but I did an actual cut and past procedure. I would type out what I had to say in double-spaces. Then I would cut the entire thing apart and tape it together in the format I wanted, then retype the entire thing again. Computerized word processing is really a gift.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. That sounds like an inordinate amount of work. In college I did all of the drafts of my papers by hand, with a lot of scratching out, writing in the margins, and arrows going every which way. Only at that point did I type it. Had I used your method, Jacque, I’d still be college or would have never graduated.

      Liked by 2 people

  15. I was sent to college with a “good” electric typewriter in its own carrying case. Mom said later that if I had started college a year or two later they might have invested in a word processor instead (not a computer, mind, a word processor). Daughter has an electric around here somewhere that her uncle found for her when she wanted a typewriter for Christmas a few years back. The place on Penn Ave was the only place I could find that had ribbon for it. She carts it out every now and again, but I doubt it will go with her to college in the fall.

    Liked by 2 people

  16. I got a manual typewriter as a gift from my mom when I was about fifteen or sixteen or so. I was never a very good typist, but I was capable enough to be able to put a typing speed on my resume. I maybe got to about 50 wpm. My accuracy was not all that great, though.

    I do still have the typewriter. A Royal, I’m pretty sure. It’s blue.

    These days I love my Querkywriter.. It sounds and feels like a typewriter.

    Liked by 2 people

  17. WordPress seems to know exactly what I want to read about! Just after I made my own post about typewriters, this showed up. I am young enough that I did not grow up in the age of typewriters, but I do have one and love it.

    Liked by 1 person

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