Written by Alana Jolley

March 20, 2015


Typewriters.  What is a typewriter?  What is it used for?  Recently I learned that a typewriter is an ancient artifact, sometimes seen in museums. The lowly typewriter used to be a cultural icon, which represented smarts if you had one. It was exclusively used for conducting business, but was sometimes found in private homes as well.  Colleges and universities were once upon a time filled with classes teaching students how to use these typewriting machines!  I was one of those students.

One time when my daughter and I were attending a lecture together, I began taking notes in a script completely foreign to her. I wrote in small symbols, which represented words and phrases in English. She kept staring as I wrote line after line. “What are you doing?” she whispered. How does one explain what Greg Shorthand is – or was? I said, “I learned this in high school.” Then, she wanted to know, “How do you read THAT?” After so many years, how did I even remember these little symbols that were still stored in my brain?  I transcribed these symbols, on a typewriter, when I worked in a District Attorney’s office.  Without these skills I would not have had a job.

It wasn’t that long ago that I wrote a book typing away for hours, on what is now considered an ancient artifact. This same book recently has become of interest to scholars. One asked me, “Can you put it on a flash drive?” Well, I could do that if it was digitized; but it’s not. I’ve tried scanning the original as a PDF document, with software to read it. That doesn’t work; the formatting remains weird. Now, I’m trying Dragon Speech. My learned logic doesn’t work anymore with computer updates changing so often, before I’ve even mastered the previous one. Sometimes I wish I still had my old IBM Selectric. Couldn’t it be made to work with a Flash Drive?

Children’s thinking today is digitized! Mine is not.  Seriously, they cannot imagine what it was like when typing and shorthand were necessary skills, especially for women. Instant is every child’s new silent word, which they don’t even have to think about. It just happens.

The following short video demonstrates how technological aspects of culture affects critical thinking processes, especially among the young.


Explore More in Cultural Anthropology. It’s never too late to explore both the old and the new.





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