Feeling old, typing edition

I am not usually prone to feeling old due to the culture around me. This isn’t because I keep current, but because I am largely indifferent to it. I serenely walk past a rack of magazines at the supermarket checkout, neither knowing nor caring who are those people on the covers. Nor am I distressed by tech culture, by virtue of being a cheerful late adopter. It’s not that I am against tech. It is that I am against overpriced and/or stupid tech. The early adopters pay a premium to get an early, inferior version of what might, upon further reflection, have been a pretty dumb idea all along. By waiting a few years, I can weed out the stupid tech ideas and pay less for a later, improved version of the smart tech ideas. Life is good when other people are eager to pay to be guinea pigs.

Despite my normal defenses, I found myself feeling old this week, at back to school night. By way of background, I started spawning comparatively late in life. People sometimes assume my daughters are my granddaughters, and I can’t really complain, since our relative ages make this perfectly reasonable.

So my older daughter (we’ll call her Filia Major”) just entered third grade. We had back-to-school night this last week to meet the teachers. Her language arts teacher (“Praeceptrix Filiae Majoris”) is this sweet young thing, whom after a week and a half Filia Major adores. She is going over their daily routine, and includes that this includes daily instruction on “keyboarding.”

This captures my attention. I took typing in eighth grade. Indeed, it was the only useful class in an otherwise wasted year, and proficiency at touch typing has served me well ever since. Back in those days it would have been absurd to teach typing to third graders. (When I was in third grade we worked on keeping the clay moist enough to press the stylus into it.) But in this brave new world, typing clearly is a useful skill for the younger set to learn, so I approve.

But what exactly does the verb “to keyboard” mean? This is important because novices invariably want to hunt and peck, and have to be forced to touch type. Back in the day we used special training typewriters that didn’t have the letters on the keys. So I asked her if she was teaching the kids “touch typing.” This was met with a blank stare, followed by the reply that “No, we teach them to put their fingers on the home row.” I give her a blank stare back. “That’s touch typing.” “It is? We don’t call it that.”

It turns out that she had never heard the term “touch typing.”  Now it is “keyboarding.” I also asked the math teacher standing next to her. The language teacher is easily young enough to be my daughter. The math teacher could be my daughter, but only if I had been precocious. But she too denied any knowledge of “touch typing.”

This minor linguistic shift seem to have occurred entirely without my noticing it, and not all that recently. I feel old.


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Richard Hershberger is a paralegal working in Maryland. When he isn't doing whatever it is that paralegals do, or taking his daughters to Girl Scouts, he is dedicated to the collection and analysis of useless and unremunerative information.

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39 thoughts on “Feeling old, typing edition

  1. Well, I know it as touch typing, and I took it in, hmm, either 8th or 9th grade, and yes, it was extremely valuable to me as a programmer. Eventually, but not right away. There isn’t a great need to touch type on a IBM 026 card punch machine, you see.

    So really, I think I’m not making you feel any younger. At least, I wasn’t trying to…


  2. I am mid-thirties. I learned it as touch-typing when I was in high school. We did not have special keyboards; we had paper that was taped to the keyboard along one edge, and it covered our hands and the keys.


  3. I’m 35 and remember both “touch typing” and “keyboarding” used as a student. I think the transition started to happen sometime in middle school.

    I’m also the child of a secretary, so I learned to type years before we started doing it in school. My typing speed combined with using vi as my text editor just bewilders some of my colleagues.

    I’m glad I learned to type as young as I did, but I do think that it contributed to my shockingly terrible penmanship. Unless I’m 100% concentrating on writing v e r y s l o w l y, words (or squiggles that are meant to be words) just pour out onto the page and even I have trouble reading them later.


    • My wife has always said that my handwriting “gives the appearance of great neatness”, but consists entirely of tidy up-and-down squiggles of various heights, with an occasional dot or crossbar added to suggest that there are i’s and t’s in there, and breaks hinting at the possibility of words. We were discussing this again the other day, when the word “aluminum” was on my shopping list. She conceded that it started with something people might recognize as “al”, but that the remainder could be anything, that there was one too few squiggles for it to actually be “uminum”, and that the dot wasn’t particularly close to the squiggle that corresponded to i.


  4. Never heard of keyboarding until this post. I always referred to writing on a computer as typing. I’m in my thirties and never used an actual type-writer in my life.


  5. I learned touch-typing in summer school after sixth grade. Mom wouldn’t let me use the typewriter until I had taken touch-typing, and finishing sixth grade was a requirement to get into the class. I had been painfully writing fiction out in longhand, and drooling over the thought of typing instead. (I had to take the mandatory eighth-grade typing class from the same instructor a couple of years later — no advance credit given.)

    Years later, during my first couple of years at Bell Labs, management got rid of the typing pool and made the engineers type all of their own documents with the UNIX text-processing tools. I recall watching senior technical staff laboring over a keyboard, hunt-and-peck at a character or two per second. Nothing came of my suggestion to management that the time “lost” putting those staff through a touch-typing class would be more than recovered by them simply writing faster.


  6. I also learned touch typing in 8th grade. And then let the skill atrophy, so I’ve been hunting and pecking ever since. Which, if anyone asks, I claim has prevented carpal tunnel issues; you can’t get repetitive strain problems from non-repetitive motions.


  7. 47 and older than dirt, apparently. I never learned typing explicitly in school (my parents perhaps subtly pressuring me into a more “academic” track? They are both scientists). But one of the big, early, clunky PCs my dad brought home came with a learn-to-type program and I did SOME with it. But more often if neatness was needed, I used a typewriter and to this day, for “important” writing (anything bigger than a quiz), I have to compose it longhand on paper and THEN type it. Because of needing to have it as final as possible to avoid errors and having to retype (old habits die hard)

    (I also – perhaps I was a hipster before it was cool? – typed some of my high school essays on the enormous manual Underwood we inherited from my newspaperman granddad)

    I call it “touch typing.” I taught it to myself in grad school on the keyboard of the old IBM I had at the time. Very useful skill to learn. (As was ten-keying, for data entry). I’m a prof now and the days of having secretaries to type your exams (my dad did) have long, long gone away.

    I personally dislike “keyboarding” because it sounds to me like a verbed noun, and verbing weirds nouns.


  8. Touch typer here. I learned to type my junior year in high school on a manual typewriter, the thinking being that having to really hit the keys would foster better skills. I can still remember Bro. Thomas Corcoran yelling out, “Hands on the home keys!”

    Later I went to engineering college and learned to program on a keypunch machine.

    I’m not so old, but I’m feeling quite otherwise as I type this.


    • Much the same story. Practiced on my father’s Underwood that weighed about 93 pounds when I was a wee lad.

      I was attracted to the aesthetics of the device — the old-fashioned curl of the keys, the gentle sweep of the hammer assembly, the way the entire assembly would bounce up and down with the shift key, the way the spring-loaded carriage would return on its own just so, how the ribbon would go from slack to taut just in time to meet the hammer when it impacted the paper. And the gorgeous clackity-clack noise the thing made when I learned how to really fly the thing. There was some clever and precision machining that went into those devices.

      And the keys only required about ten foot-pounds per keystroke to make a legible impact on the paper.

      So in school when they gave us IBM Selectrics, man, I just flew. All you had to do was think about hitting a key and the letter was there. And while the school didn’t use it (because you could cheat with it) they could hold correction tape!


  9. Typist here, took typing in 8th grade and it was just called typing then. I am 45 for what it is worth. That said, I am kinda an indifferent typist, as I took a lot of hand drafting in high school, thinking I wanted to be an architect and so lettered a lot. And this has also destroyed my handwriting, as I now try to letter everything, and poorly at that due to time and the lack of need for handwriting.

    Funny thing though, my son at 21 is a decent typist also. When he does text (shudder) he texts full words, refuses to LeetSpeak. Not so his friends growing up, whose parents were often 10-20 years older than his mother and I. We brooked no nonsense in things like this.


    • LeetSpeak, as it were wrote, is to me a tone, and one that I don’t particularly like if I’m texting. Texting needs to be efficient; that means making sure that the person on the end takes you seriously and correctly reads your tone of nominal voice. The only people I know who use things like it are my parents and other relatives, who have trouble typing on a phone and so feel the tradeoff in tonal clarity is worth it. I disagree, but it would be rude for me to tell them so.

      edit: This whole comment came out sounding really weird and I’m not sure why.


    • Funny thing though, my son at 21 is a decent typist also. When he does text (shudder) he texts full words, refuses to LeetSpeak.

      This is another thing that puts me on the older side of the millennial line that I’m up against. I can’t not punctuate. I have to slow down to abbreviate words. It’s faster and easier for me just to type out the words that are in my head. I also don’t really send text messages.

      The texting thing is weird to me since we started with the telegraph, invented the telephone, made it digital and wireless and portable, and then everybody started to use that final product as a telegraph. It does make sense in that it’s asynchronous/non-blocking like email, which is very efficient. But I see people texting each other in real-time with their focus 100% on texting, which I can’t quite figure out. If you’re not time slicing other tasks in or splitting your attention, what’s the benefit?


  10. I just want to say that I was crushed when I found out, many years after I used her typing software, that Mavis Beacon is not a real person.*

    *This only makes sense to kids who learned to type in the late ’80s and early ’90s.


      • John Chapman, a/k/a Johnny Appleseed, was far weirder than merely being a damn drunk. (Actually, I am skeptical of that claim. The point of those apple trees was to make hard cider. This doesn’t make him a drunk, but it would be plenty enough to make later prohibitionists claim he was.) His lifestyle was, umm… idiosyncratic. I particularly like that he was a missionary for the New Church, a/k/a the Swedenborgians. Swedenborg was a Lutheran minister who started having visions. He founded a new church, the New Church, and published many many volumes of his theology.

        The New Church is still around. They are centered in Bryn Athyn, just north of Philadelphia. They have a big-ass gothic cathedral, built using traditional techniques by the same crew that built the National Cathedral. I was driving by one day, knowing nothing of them, and looked out my car window and saw a big-ass gothic cathedral in the Philly suburbs. This was startling. I later took the tour. I commend it, if you are ever in Philly and have an extra half-day. The docents typically are sweet little old church ladies, who don’t try to convert you. There is the bookstore, should you feel moved to buy the complete writings of Swedenborg, which I don’t recommend.


  11. I had trouble with handwriting when I was starting elementary school, so I was given one of these things, on which I hunted and pecked, and a CD containing a touch-typing game, which I never finished. In 5th grade I had a genuine typing class, but didn’t really build much skill. Then at some point in late middle school or early high school I abruptly became aware of the fact that I was touch typing, or something of the sort, and in fact had been for years. I’m still not sure when or how I actually learned to do it, but I do believe those three early things I did were helpful (and yet, no substitute for the internet).


  12. I have been a pretty fast hunt-and-peck, two-finger typist for nearly 50 years, in occupations that require me to write a great deal. I probably should have learned to touch-type, but the increased speed didn’t seem to be worth it.
    Then again, in my day they didn’t teach history because there hadn’t been enough yet.


  13. Richard, a cliché I remember the old folks compulsively saying about us kids right after “if only I had their energy” was “kids keep you young!”. And if you make a slight adjustment in attitude, it has some truth. Parents can learn a lot about the world around us by listening to the kids. Not all of it good by any means, but the young, especially I think one’s own offspring, provide a compelling window to a world that would likely be otherwise incomprehensible. Take it as a gift. Even the mind-numbing stuff, even the stuff that scares you to your core.


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