Saturday, July 01, 2006

The March of Time

The other day I was intrigued to read that Ms. Rowling had run out of paper on which to finish her next Harry Potter saga. Those who write their books in longhand must be a dwindling bunch. I recall that the novelist Iris Murdoch did and that she insisted on delivering the pages to her publisher by hand herself and refused to allow them to make any changes – a wonderful riposte to the demands of publishers and agents everywhere who insist that you play by their rules.

As my last school report listed my handwriting skills as “execrable,” a word I’ve liked ever since, at an early age I invested in an Imperial Portable Typewriter. Portable was something of a euphemism for it would have made a good boat anchor. However it lasted me for a good many years, far longer than the several more lightweight successors that succumbed to flooding with coffee, wine and occasional gin as well as the odd dropping from a height, with pathetic ease.

Technology arrived in the shape of a computer, a Commodore 64, an absolutely marvellous concept being just one obese keyboard with all the works stuck inside. The word processing programme whose name I forget, was a plug-in cartridge and contained none of the whistles and bells that come with more up to date concepts. It just did what you told it to and not what the programmer thought you ought to be doing– a wonderful idea .

But time marches on and the next thing was that a mouse arrived on my computer desk along with something called, mysteriously, Windows, a name that still baffles me.

Logistically this posed a problem since the mouse was, according to all the diagrams I saw, posed to sit just where my drink had done in the past. Either I had to become a left handed drinker or a left handed mouse user. On the grounds of experience I chose the latter course, something which also has the advantage of discouraging casual use of your computer by others.

But I remember another early programme called Wordstar that worked beautifully without the need for a mechanical rodent cluttering up your desk space. Everything could be done from the keyboard perfectly simply – its failing was of course that it was not “up to date” and possibly not compatible with Windows. If anyone still has a copy, I’d love to have one.

This all sounds as though I’m opposed to modern technology. I’m not, as long as techno-hype does not allow it to supersede something that worked better in the past.

After all, if it weren’t for modern technology, you wouldn’t be reading this now.


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