Saturday, 20 October 2012

First year university, then and now ...

I completed my undergraduate degree in English in the mid-1980s. I did an MA a few years later.

When I started university, my parents handed me an old, second-hand typewriter that had been left at our house by a long-ago visitor. It was made in the mid-60s, of indestructible cast iron. This ancient piece of equipment was sturdy, enormous, and must have weighed over 60 pounds. I kept it under my work desk by my feet, and rolled up my sleeves whenever I needed to hoist it desk-side to use it.

It was electric, barely. When I plugged it in, it warmed to life and shook the table. It needed time to calm down to a gentle, roaring, reliable chug.

It was fantastic. It had a wonderful typeface and never broke. The ribbon was endless. I don't recall ever replacing it, and I used it through four undergraduate years of interminable English essays. It was always the standby for panicked room-mates at 2:00 a.m. when other, lesser typewriters broke down.

Who has a typewriter I can use? Philippa does.

When I started graduate school, a newer typewriter was purchased for me. It had a reversible, back-space correction ribbon (good-bye half dried-out bottles of correction fluid), plus a 25-word memory buffer. It was the newest thing, but I never really liked it as much as my first typewriter. It needed repairs constantly, and zipped through ribbons like candy. I bought them in bulk.

Fast forward to 2012. My own child is now in first year university. We sent her off to school in September with a very reliable PC she'd had for a year. But it might as well have been an ancient typewriter. It was too big to take to class. It didn't fit on the tiny flip-up tables at her seat. It wasn't the same equipment as the teacher was using.

For the first six weeks of her university career, my child used, gasp, a pencil and paper in class to take her notes, just like I did. Positively stone age. She aced all her mid-terms and her course work, no problem. 

This weekend, we acquiesced and she now has a new little sleek machine which she will tote to class and follow along with her teacher's powerpoint notes. I wonder, I really do, how this will affect her retention. There is nothing like pencil and paper and our own handwriting for learning new concepts.

I digress. The real issue here is the impermanence of technology. I wonder how long her sleek little machine will last (despite the three year warranty)? Will it make it through her four undergraduate years? I doubt it, that seems like several lifetimes for a laptop.

I have lost track of my first typewriter, it was sold I think, in a garage sale years ago. But I have no doubt that someone could use it still, reliable and indestructible beast that it was. 

And my daughter's laptop? Landfill-bound, I have no doubt, in three years.

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