All Hail The Beneficent, Ubiquitous Keyboard

There’s a little sort of game going on in Facebook lately. Someone is challenged to list three things they’re thankful for for seven days, at the same time tagging a friend each day (or something like that) to do the same. I haven’t been asked to do it, and I have no plans of doing it either, as it just seems too spread out and broad to do justice to the recognition of those things we might be thankful for. Nevertheless, it does give me pause and I have been thinking about what I would say should I choose one or two specific things for which I’m thankful. There is one seemingly mundane thing that keeps popping into my head. My ability to type.

I can’t imagine how different my world would be if I had to use what an old girlfriend of mine called the “search and destroy” method of typing. Most people use the more pastoral term “hunt and peck”, but she spent several tours with the USO in Vietnam and her life was colored by her exposure to that war, the military, and her involvement in the movement to end it. If I were hampered by that inability, my social presence and my ability to communicate would be virtually non-existent.

I was fortunate. In Junior High School I took a typing class; instead of what I haven’t the faintest, but I recall it seeming to be the most useful option at the time. As a result, I learned to touch type. Later on, when I was in Law School, I secured a position as a legal secretary for a sole practitioner who did a lot of contract and property damage work for several of the largest car rental agencies in the country. We were very busy and my workload was challenging enough that my speed increased. I’ve never been as prolific as the best, but I was up to a little over 80 wpm, with few if any errors. That’s not quite as fast as the average person can speak, but it’s a respectable clip.

IBM Memory Typewriter

The IBM Memory Typewriter

The job turned out to be a major turning point in my life, as I was introduced to the early stages of office computing and word processing. We ended up getting an IBM Memory Typewriter, the one built on the correcting Selectric, but with a dial providing memory for 50 separate pages. We moved up shortly to an Artec Display 2000, which used two 8″ floppies and had a scrolling display of approximately 30 characters. I don’t remember if it was LED or LCD, but the characters were red. We used it for pleadings, and wills and trusts.

Back to typing speed and how critical it is to communication in today’s world. I don’t really have to imagine what it would be like, because I had an experience with a colleague that pointed it out rather clearly, though it took months for me to recognize what was happening. I was working with the Director of our newly formed Program Management Office at what was then the Rocketdyne Power & Propulsion business unit of The Boeing Company. We were at almost opposite ends of the main office building in Canoga Park and I was upstairs in what was called The Annex. The distance between his office and my cubesickle was around 400 yards; not a huge distance, but it took time to walk back and forth. Plus it meant passing through the Executive Office area and there were always distractions.

I can’t recall the exact dates, but it was very early in our use of Instant Messenger; so early that I had to point out its value, as most of the older staff (which meant all of the Executives) perceived it as only a toy their kids used to communicate with each other. I kept sending IMs to this Director, but he never answered them, nor did he respond in anything resembling a timely manner to emails, so I was forced to walk to his office repeatedly during the day.

It wasn’t until a couple of months had passed that I happened to be sitting with him in his office and he was answering an email. Watching him type . . . ever so slowly and painfully . . . made it clear why he never responded to me. He had to hunt anew for each letter and, with his two index fingers, peck them out in a long, excruciatingly difficult session. He clearly hated it. I know I was cringing as I watched. I never sent him an IM after that day.

I’m thinking the ability to type is one of those essential tools we seldom think about — perhaps take for granted — without which our world would be far less rich and fulfilling. I can type this post, tweet, post to Facebook, engage in lengthy, spirited debates with dozens of widely dispersed people, and participate in a plethora of other forms of communication or collaboration relatively easily, all because of my ability to type quickly and accurately. I imagine this is true for almost all, if not all, of my friends and acquaintances.

For this I am deeply thankful.

About Rick Ladd

I retired nearly 13 years ago, though I've continued to work during most of the time since then. I'm hoping to return to work on the RS-25 rocket engine program (formerly the SSME) which will power our return to the moon. Mostly I'm just cruising, making the most of what time I have remaining. Although my time is nearly up, I still care deeply about the kind of world I'll be leaving to those who follow me and, to that end, I am devoted to seeing the forces of repression and authoritarianism are at least held at bay, if not crushed out of existence. I write about things that interest me and, as an eclectic soul, my interests run the gamut from science to spirituality, governance to economics, art and engineering. I'm hopeful one day my children will read what I've left behind. View all posts by Rick Ladd

2 responses to “All Hail The Beneficent, Ubiquitous Keyboard

  • Trisha Liu

    Rick, I love it that you documented this! I’m also grateful for my ability to type, and I know I take it for granted. I learned to type one summer during grammar school. My mom signed me up for a typing class. I carried a manual typewriter to school each day (both ways, haha!!). It was the lighter of two typewriters we had. The heavier one was a big, gray, metal thing. The one I carried had a red case, and it typed in cursive! My typing skills have served me very, very well ever since.

    Like you, it didn’t occur to me that people working in an office setting like me might not be able to type. In 2009 or so, I helped hire a new Customer Advocate to our technical support team. He had a great personality – very caring, problem solving seemed sound. However, a few days into the job, we realized he “couldn’t type”. Search and destroy typist – haha, I love that! Not only was he an S&D man, but he could not talk on the phone and type either. A primary job responsibility was to answer the Support Hotline and open new support cases on behalf of customers. Sadly, he had to go. (There were other mis-matches too, so it was for the best.)

    My manager and I scratched our heads. Who knew that you’d need to ask about typing skills in this day and age? And… how do you screen for that, how do you list this in the job description? The best I could come up with quickly was “Must be able to type at least 40 WPM.” Yes, 40 WPM is pretty low. But what I really wanted to put was “Can you talk on the phone and type?” and I just couldn’t bring myself to include that.

    I do a ton of “computing” and social media participating on my smartphone now. Having to re-learn typing on such a small device has been annoying and I’m not nearly as fast. But it’s still worth it, for all the conversation, communication, and collaboration goodness that you describe. Type on, my friend!


    • Rick Ladd

      Hi Trisha. Thanks so much for adding to the experience. Don’t you just know there are dozens, if not hundreds, of stories just like ours? You’ve reminded me of another thing I might have to post about. Some time ago, when I was still gainfully employed as a KM professional, community organizer, project manager, I wanted to get HR to figure out a way to screen potential employees for their willingness and ability to share. Wasn’t quite sure how to do it without being overly restrictive and, perhaps, just plain stupid, but I did want to start the ball rolling so a way could be found. I’m sure you know why I wanted to do this. At any rate, true to what one might expect from a large, risk-averse organization is what happened. Frankly, I think the concept scared the crap out of them. Oh well . . . moving on.


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