Not long ago it was reported that the last typewriter factory in the world closed its doors, thus ending a chapter in the history of the written word.
The next day, the report was refuted – it turns out other companies still make the machines. In fact, they even make special see-through models for use in prisons, where wardens need to allow prisoners to communicate without having access to the internet or a place to hide weapons. Nevertheless, restricted email will probably soon be the norm in the prison system and the market for typewriters may soon disappear for real.
This means nothing to my kids or even to people only a few years younger than me. But I learned to type in a formal class full of manual typewriters, I wrote six years of term papers on a typewriter and I still remember the tremendous sense of relief the first time I wrote something on a word processor. It was so easy! You could make changes! It was so much better!
Or was it?
I wrote a great number of papers in college and because I did not, shall we say, budget my time wisely, I usually did not have a lot of time to polish a rough draft. Or even write one. Typically I would handwrite my introduction, scribble edits all over it, then look at the clock and realize I had about two hours left to write and type the next six pages.
So I’d type up my introduction and just keep going. Whatever my hands and brain combined to spit onto the page was what I turned in. There was no way to make revisions without retyping the whole thing and I knew it, so I didn’t even consider going back to change what I’d written. It stood.
So I probably turned in some truly crappy papers in my day. But in the long run, I think the necessity forced me to become a better writer on the fly. And that, in turn, helped me tremendously when I came to taking tests.
When you write out an essay answer on a test, you don’t have time or even space for much in the way of revision. You fling out your answer and hope it’s comprehensible. Law school was three years of classes where the grade for a whole semester depended almost entirely on what was scribbled in an exam book in a few frantic hours.
It was easy for me. Just like writing all those papers in college.
But it won’t be as easy for my kids. So much of what they write is now typed – and typed on a device where it can be easily edited. Even emails and text messages can be corrected in a few seconds. When editing is part of the writing process, there is a temptation to stop, reconsider and make changes. It’s great for writing poetry–not so great for regurgitating content on a timed exam.
Can children of the post-typewriter era do it? Can they write coherently without getting distracted thinking about what they wish they could revise?
My son will be taking his first AP exam next week. We’ll see what happens…