Boomer Blog: The inconvenience of the good, old days


Thank goodness the month of December is over! My relief, however, is unrelated to the holiday season just celebrated. The last month of 2016 presented difficult challenges when my computer ceased to function.

Around Thanksgiving, ominous blue screens and unexpected shutdowns had me doubting my trusty Dell desktop. Eventually the “LaunchStartupRepair” failed to launch, and my technical partner in this weekly column was totally out of commission.

How I long for the days when any glitch on my school computer could be immediately and expertly resolved. Since retirement, however, I have been pretty much on my own. My sister offers the occasional helpful suggestion such as plugging in the monitor cord when things suddenly go dark. My nephew is also great about general tune-ups, but he lives so unhandily far away in North Carolina.

Fortunately, my connections to the Internet were not completely severed. I survived with my Kindle book reader, on which I could check e-mails, Facebook, and Google when necessary – with limitations. On its tiny screen, I replied to just one e-mail for the entire month: a five-sentence message accomplished only after thirty minutes with a magnifying glass.

So what is a non-tech-savvy Baby Boomer, whose strengths are grammar rules in two languages and counted cross-stitch, to do? Reluctantly but necessarily, I put pen to paper and returned to the good, old days of writing longhand.

The first draft of every college paper, every business letter, every test, and every homework sheet I ever wrote – until a computer landed on my desk at the turn of the new century – began as a “sloppy copy” scribbled on a cheap tablet.

During those days, I could never have predicted my acceptance of – let alone reliance on – any machine more advanced than my second-hand electric typewriter. I routinely plunked myself down in front of the device I considered the best invention since Gutenberg started moving type around, rolled in a piece of erasable bond paper or a ditto master, and commenced typing from crumpled pages filled with marginally-legible words and vaguely-directional arrows.

For thirty years my manual word-processing procedure worked well enough to turn out semester exams, curriculum reports, and past tense review sheets, although I always dreaded using razor blades to correct errors on those purple masters.

Actually, I wrote everything in longhand first because I doubted my ability to compose at the typewriter. Most people under the age of 40 could never conceive of writing anything BEFORE they start typing; I could not conceive of writing anything WHILE I was typing.

Oh, I watched newspaper reporters in those black-and-white movies from the 40’s and 50’s type their stories directly from head to paper. Even Robert Redford and Dustin Hoffman typed their explosive Watergate stories the same way in All the President’s Men in 1976. All of them possessed a skill not even present in my wheelhouse.

One day in the early 2000’s, I found myself pressed for time to write a letter of recommendation for a student. As I sat in front of a blank computer screen with no rough draft beside me, I conjured up an image of the student and began to type. Without the pressure of manually correcting mistakes on paper, with the realization that a couple of keystrokes could undo any number of bonehead typing errors, I practically breezed through the letter – and never looked back.

Is it any wonder, then, that I was downright rusty in the rough draft department as I composed my December columns? Scrawling words on the backs of used computer paper, crossing out words and sentences and even entire paragraphs, drawing arrows pointing here and there and back to here again – the inconvenience of the good, old days returned with a vengeance.

Each article required four versions before the final one, and keeping manual track of my word count drove me bonkers. The final copy, written on lined paper I accidentally found in my junk room, had to be completely legible – and ready a week ahead of my normal schedule – so that I could hand it off to my computered sister for typing and submission. We all owe a huge expression of gratitude to Barb Sell for her month-long help!

Replacing the old computer was no walk in the park either. My heart’s desire was a brand-new device exactly like its predecessor, impossible in this day and age when the latest technology is obsolete by Thursday.

In the end, I opted for a very standard model with a much smaller “tower.” The choice of Windows 7 or Windows 10 posed another dilemma, which necessitated phone calls to friends familiar with such issues – and my technical weaknesses.

A final phone conversation about gigabytes and terabytes with my brother-in-law, recently retired from the computer industry, sealed the deal. Although I am not sure that Mitch at Dell will ever be the same after my phone order, my new computer arrived in three packages three days later.

I am once again grateful that my nephew spent one of his home-for-Christmas-days setting up my purchase. I am thankfully back to my “modern” regimen for this article: no paper, no pen, no rough draft – just lovely composition and correction right on my computer screen.

For this part of my life, at least, my clear preference is the ease of the newfangled over the inconvenience of the golden past.

By Shirley Scott

Shirley Scott, a 1966 graduate of Graham High School, is a native of Champaign County. After receiving degrees in English and German from Otterbein College, she returned to GHS in 1970 where she taught until retiring in 2010. From 1976-2001 she coordinated the German Exchange Program with the Otto-Hahn-Gymnasium in Springe.

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