Things change

I got up this morning thinking about typing. Even though I was only half awake, I found an online typing test and started pounding the keyboard. After sixty seconds of churning out random sentences with my fingers, I learned my results: 75 words per minute.

Not bad for a fifty-something who learned on a manual typewriter nearly 40 years ago, right? (Full transparency: I took the test a couple of times to loosen up my sleepy brain.)

Twice this week, I’ve had conversations with friends about how I learned to type. If you’re younger than 30, typing–sorry, keyboarding–probably became part of your life at an early age. I know my kids started learning the basics in their kindergarten classrooms. But for those of us who didn’t grow up with computers (I love them, by the way), knowing how to type is kind of a big deal. Ask around; you might be surprised at how many Gen Xers use the hunt-and-peck method.

Why does it matter? I mean, it’s just one of many functional representations of how and when the electronic revolution manifested itself, right? Back in the day, people didn’t learn to type because they didn’t have to learn to type. There was no such thing as personal computing.

Let’s dig a little deeper.

A friend and I had dinner together this week and she mentioned that she couldn’t type. It rather annoyed her since pecking around on the keyboard slowed her down at work, but she had never learned how. After all, back when she was in school, only the girls who intended to become secretaries took a typing class. That was old-fashioned. That was unenlightened. That was not for young women in the 80s who were loosed on the world to do anything. Why learn a skill that was just going to perpetuate the patriarchy?

[Side note: my friend didn’t just eschew the obvious “female” endeavors. She took it a step further and got herself an appointment to West Point just six years after the first woman was admitted. She’s definitely bad a$$.]

I remember having similar thoughts to hers. I had taken a nine-week intro to typing in junior high school, but only because everyone had to do it, boys and girls alike. It was part of a rotation through certain electives that would help students choose one for an entire semester the next year.

When the time came to register for next year’s classes, my choice was certainly not typing. No way, no how. I had no intention of being someone’s secretary.

Enter my dad.

Never before had he gotten involved in my class selection, but this time he absolutely insisted that I enroll in the semester-long typing class. What?! This didn’t make any sense to me until he pointed to the computer that sat in his bedroom.

No one else I knew had a computer at home. Heck, we didn’t even have one at school. At the time, most people thought a computer was a room-sized machine with blinking lights that spat out “data,” whatever that was. Having a personal computer, or even access to one, was a foreign concept. Except to my dad.

Dad pointed to that computer as I whined about taking typing. He said simply, “You’re going to need it.”

Whether that was enough to convince me or he just put his foot down, I don’t remember. But I took the class. For four months, my classmates and I pounded away on manual typewriters until The quick brown fox jumped over the lazy dog became our own private joke. Timed tests became competitions and we fought to have the highest WPM in the class. It ended up being kind of fun, but I didn’t think I’d ever use the skill.

Was I ever wrong.

I find it fascinating that something women once viewed with disdain has become a nearly essential life skill. It’s simply expected, even for our children. They type to complete school assignments, job applications, and send email. In a fairly short time, it has become part of daily life, and most people never saw it coming.

What’s next? My first reaction is to say something silly like typing is here to stay. Then I think how many tasks I listed above can be completed on our phones. And just when I think that thumbing messages will never replace the QWERTY keyboard, I wonder…

…Could it ever be replaced by a thumb-driven keyboard? One that plugs into a monitor? Does a keyboard have to be typewriter-esque? The kids we deride for constantly having their noses in their phones just might find a way to elevate a skill few people respect.

Things change. Always.

[I mean no offense to any of my administrative assistant friends. It’s an honorable profession, but in an era when women struggled with empowerment, the position of secretary was often held up as a representation of female subservience. I intentionally used the term secretary instead of admin to help make this point.]

2 thoughts on “Things change

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  1. Back in my day (and I’m about 10 years older than you), it was to train us to be a secretary. At the time, that was my dream job (until I actually had that job!). But the typing class was one of the best life skills classes I took. Honestly, I’ve used it more in the computer age than I did anything I learned in Chemistry or Algebra.

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