What’s old becomes new again

“There is nothing new under the sun.” —Modern day proverb generally attributed as being derived from Ecclesiastes 1:9 in the Bible.

The old adage suggesting there is nothing new without some sort of precedent from the past came to mind last week while I sat in a doctor’s waiting room filled with people sending and receiving messages on cell phones. I smiled thinking the current generation “typing” on devices using only their thumbs had nothing on me. I was typing with two fingers decades ago. Did it until I learned to use three, then graduated to four. I’m up to about five fingers now. It’s a very well-known system for those of us who skipped typing classes in high school. We call it “hunt and peck.”

Admittedly, devices used in 2017 to communicate written thoughts have come a long way since the days of my grandfather’s old manual typewriter currently displayed in my office. The contrast of his typewriter positioned near my computer speaks volumes.

Underwood 1 crop-smMy dad’s father, S.V. Aldridge, retired in 1954 from the Cotton Belt Route railroad line that is part of what we know today as Union Pacific. The railroad was his sole lifetime occupation, one that he embarked on in 1901 at the age of 13 as a laborer on the rail crews. His last 24 years were spent as a section foreman with an office at the Pittsburg, Texas, depot. That same building, the last I knew of, was still doing time as a barbecue restaurant on Greer Boulevard in the same city where it sat downtown for decades between two crossing rail lines at the end of Main Street. It was also where my grandfather typed his reports and other forms of communication on the same typewriter.

After he retired, he kept it in his desk at home in Pittsburg where I vividly remember typing simple words on it as a youngster, slowly using one finger at a time. It was nothing short of sheer magic to a grade-schooler to push a metal tab back and forth and watch the color of the type change from black to red.  I’ve been the typing machine’s custodian since shortly after he died in December of 1967. The old black Underwood with gold lettering and pin striping has since sat idle in numerous locations in my home, at other businesses where I’ve officed, and sometimes in storage.

With each move during the almost 50 years I’ve owned it, advancements in communication devices have become increasingly more profound. Moving it to my office at Advanced Ecology in Center, Texas, recently served not only to remind me of those advancements, but this time seemed also to promote the idea that it just might be true—perhaps every new idea really does have some sort of precedent or echo from the past.

By any name, (and yes I know it’s not typing any more, it’s now “keyboarding”) tapping a key to communicate a thought is truly magic—hit the keys you want, and watch letters appear in front of you. To say the process and the method first patented in 1714 has improved would be a gross understatement. During its day, however, the old manual typewriter was just as revolutionary as computers are today.

For instance, the keyboards on today’s devices are exactly the same as they have been since 1874 when Remington updated the layout by introducing the “QWERTY” keyboard, so named for the sequence of keys that begins the top row of letters. Thus, the typing class exercise, “The quick brown fox jumped over the lazy dog’s back,” employing every letter of the alphabet is typed the same way, whether on a 19th century typewriter, or a 2017 computer, tablet or phone.

Come to think of it, the typewriter was one up on the computer. It had its own built-in printer. Need multiple copies? No problem. You do remember carbon paper, don’t you? Plus, power outages and dead batteries were never a problem. A typewriter required neither. Software updates? That was a new cushion for your desk chair. And obsolescence wasn’t an issue either. My grandfather’s machine that is more than 80-years-old has never required the first update, and it produces documents just as well as it did when new.

Quaint, but just a relic of the past, right? Hold on. Just like vinyl records that came back from the dead about the time their obituary appeared in print, brand new manual typewriters are now appearing on the market. Specialty retailer Hammacher Schlemmer has rolled out one new model promoting it as if it’s the “newest thing under the sun.” Just one more reminder that if you stick around long enough, what’s old becomes new again.

Just one piece of advice, though. Don’t ask your office IT department to network it into the system…unless they have a really good sense of humor. Luckily, mine did.

—Leon Aldridge

Aldridge columns are also published in the Center, Texas, Light and Champion (http://www.lightandchampion.com) and the Mount Pleasant, Texas, Tribune newspapers (http://www.tribnow.com).


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