Su Lum: Slumming | AspenTimes.com

Su Lum: Slumming

Su Lum
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO Colorado

My computer has been going crazy lately, always a reminder of how dependent I am upon it and how much easier things were in the Old Days with my trusty typewriter.

I inherited my first typewriter from my great-grandmother, MaMa, a formidable woman born in 1865, the year the Civil War ended, whom I remember well, dressed in black and wielding her cane, for her ability to set the household into a tizzy when she came to our house for long visits.

I was in seventh grade when I received the typewriter, a bright green Royal “portable” (not to be confused with iPods, but weighing less than a cinder block), which served me well until I moved on to my second husband’s Smith Corona. We didn’t, after all, need two typewriters.

Nothing ever went wrong with the green Royal that a new cloth ribbon or a twist of a stuck key couldn’t fix, but we can’t let well enough alone – we leapt to electrics, then to IBM Selectrics with the little balls to change the fonts, leading to the computers which only savants can understand and which may, at any moment, implode their hard drives and lose all data, become infested with poltergeists and gremlins, flash onto the Blue Screen of Death or simply display the message “NO SIGNAL” when you’re at deadline.

No, I do not want to return to carbon paper, mimeographs or ditto machines (young readers will not understand these terms), much less the earlier version of the Xerox called the Verifax, where a photograph of the original was made, then dipped in a potent, odoriferous solution and, affixed to a piece of copy paper, hung to dry until the exact moment when you could pull them apart. Repeat to get another copy. No wonder unemployment was low.

On the other hand, I remember when, with the flick of an Exacto blade, I could turn an “l” into an “i,” whereas now, in our modernity, I have to send the correction to a team in Gypsum, wait for its return, e-mail the corrected version to the client and then wait for the client to fax or e-mail back approval, usually with a few more changes tacked on.

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The printers break down, the ink jets run out in mid-stream and cost a fortune to replace, the paper jams and you frantically open secret doors, turning gear A clockwise and gear D counterclockwise – you can see the damned paper jammed in there but can’t get at it. If we’re so high-tech, shouldn’t we be equipped with Harry Potter wands to bypass these annoyances?

One of my fond memories of the old newspaper business was the excited clacking of the typewriters, the teletype and the linotype machines. Din doesn’t begin to describe it. Now you open the door to The Aspen Times and hear, as Paul Simon called it, the sound of silence.

On our Alaskan homestead, I ran off the copies of our newsletter – promised to be monthly but consisting of one edition – by hand-feeding paper onto a cookie tray full of extra thick jelled Jello on which I had placed the typewritten ditto copy. I am at a total loss to explain this to anyone without the basic knowledge of the Ditto process; suffice to say this was how we jerry-rigged things in the Old Days – it wasn’t better, but it was an alternative.

As the old song says, “From here on up the hills don’t get any higher, but the hollers get deeper and deeper.” From here on up, the technology gets better and better, but the alternatives get fewer and fewer.