An Ode to Word Processing

AN ODE TO WORD PROCESSING….Sheril Kirshenbaum is giving up her computer for the next couple of days:

This weekend finds me with the unique opportunity to use a vintage Smith-Corona Super Sterling Portable Manual Typewriter. Translation: typing with no plug, connection or correction.

….There’s something absolutely genuine about what an old typewriter like this can produce. The blank page in the carriage is full of possibility and somehow in what’s composed — even amid uneven spacing, missing letters, and misspelled words — I find freedom. Honesty assembled in plastic, metal, and ribbon.

This is just the opposite of my experience. Like everyone my age, I used a typewriter for the first decade of my writing life, including some very high-quality machines (thanks to my father, who was pretty obsessed with using really good typewriters). But when I discovered word processing for the first time — in 1980, I think — it was like a fog had lifted from my brain and I’d suddenly developed a direct neural connection to a writing tool. From the first moment I used it, I loved the editing and composing freedom that word processing gave me. And while I can’t remember every typewriter I’ve ever used, I can sure remember every word processing program, starting with a Wang dedicated machine at the LA Times, followed by Scripsit and Electric Pencil on a TRS-80, MASS-11 on a VAX, Ami Pro on my first Windows box (still my favorite of the bunch), and finally Microsoft Word. Though, in truth, the parade doesn’t end with Word: the vast bulk of my writing for the past five years has been done in the crude text-editing box of Movable Type, which has probably been responsible for more total words of writing than every other implement I’ve used put together.

But crudeness doesn’t matter. Movable Type provides me with a tiny input box and no formatting tools beyond a few HTML tags, but it’s still a word processor and I still love it. It feels like an extension of my brain in a way that no typewriter ever did.

Keyboards, though, are a different story. If I could buy a PC keyboard that felt like an IBM Selectric keyboard, I’d snap it up in a second. Or even one that felt like an original IBM PC keyboard. Sadly, every PC keyboard these days feels like junk. It’s been years since I had one that I really liked.

UPDATE: Hmmm. This guy claims that keyboards from this company are just like original IBM PC keyboards. For $69 it’s worth a try! But should I get it in black, to match my current computer, or pearl white, for that old time IBM goodness? Decisions, decisions.

UPDATE 2: Oh no! Should I get a genuine refurbished IBM Model M 1391401 keyboard instead? Apparently the Unicomp guys above bought the “buckling spring” technology from IBM, so their new keyboards should have the same feel. But do they?