Upgrades to advanced technology mean trading old problems for new ones

Feb 1 2013 - 10:31pm

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Sometimes I think about the good old days.

Mostly, I wonder, looking through the prism of hindsight, were they really all that good, or is that prism really just rose-colored glasses?

During my junior year of college, I was in an advanced reporting class that involved, as you might imagine, a lot of writing.

Back then, journalists, even those in training, wrote on manual typewriters. As a refresher or introductory course if you're young enough, the imprint of a letter was laid down on the paper by the typewriter key striking an inked ribbon.

I don't remember many specifics about the reporting class, none of the classmates or assignments. I do remember the professor, a jovial, somewhat overweight younger guy who tended toward sarcasm to make his teaching points.

What I also remember, though, is a note the professor wrote in red ink on a paper that I did for that class: "May I suggest a new typewriter ribbon?"

Obviously, he didn't care for the barely legible imprint that my worn-out ribbon left on the paper.

In those days, 40-plus years ago, that worn-out ribbon constituted a system failure.

I thought about that this week when we had some computer issues at work that involved more than a worn-out typewriter ribbon.

Which was better -- the relatively simple task of changing out a singular component of a mechanical device, or the computers that, while much more technologically advanced, could, at a seeming whim, leave you high-and-dry with nothing to do but wait for the IT staff to make the necessary fixes?

Changing the typewriter ribbon was undoubtedly easier. I usually procrastinated doing that, though, because I always ended up with ink-stained fingers when I had to do so.

In my mind, the step up to electric typewriters, many with a self-contained ribbon cartridge, was a huge technological leap. No way ink got on your fingers with those babies.

Reporter Charles Trentelman is a typewriter aficionado. He owns several manual typewriters, and until a short while ago kept one in the office.

"I used to keep at least one manual typewriter in the office at all times so I could continue to take notes and even work up stories when the computers were not feeling well," Trentelman said.

"Mostly it was fun to use one in the newsroom because when I did everyone's ears would perk up and, depending on the age of the hearer, either recognize that old sound, or wonder what it was."

When I had a few free minutes not long ago, I actually rolled a fresh sheet of paper into the typewriter and took it for a spin, with the old typing standby "The quick brown fox jumped over the lazy dog."

Rather, I tried to. I forgot over the years that a manual typewriter requires a lot of finger and hand strength, or at least more than computer keys do, to operate successfully.

The old days had their frustrations -- white out or erasure rather than the delete key to correct typing errors, carbon paper for copies and, yes, changing ribbons. But the new days do, too -- computer crashes that eat all your work, viruses and malware that can take over your machine, days when the system just decides to slow down and isn't much interested that you have a deadline.

I really don't want to turn back the clock, although I never knew anybody in the typewriter days who had carpal tunnel syndrome.

And I am deeply grateful that I don't have to change those typewriter ribbons any more.

Dave Greiling is managing editor of the Standard-Examiner. He may be reached at 801-625-4224 or by email at dgreiling@standard.net.

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