Rebel with a pause


My computer keyboard has 102 keys and I have no idea what at least 20 of them are supposed to do.

What, for instance, does the Pause button do?

When curiosity got the better of me yesterday and I hit it, nothing at all seemed to happen. It just, well, paused. At first.

When I was in my last years of school in the 1970s, computing was an elective subject and only seriously strange kids took it.

I decided it was better to learn how to type because it seemed like a skill that would actually be useful to me.

Who knew that computers were going to revolutionise the way we work and live? Er, well apart from Mr Spock on Star Trek?

Computers now are everywhere, not just at our workplaces but also in our cars and our kitchens.

Have you ever used one of those public dunnies that automatically lock and flush and dispense soap and wash your hands and dry your hands and unlock and send you away feeling like you’ve just come off a production-line conveyor belt?

My guess is that the same seriously strange kids who took computer classes at my school designed them. Only now they’re seriously rich and kids no longer.

I learnt to touch type using all my fingers at school, but only to music. The teacher thought playing classical music in class would help us with our typing rhythm.

When I began as a cadet journalist, and we were not allowed to play music in the office, I lost all my rhythm.

You have probably seen in the movies the stereotypical journo — with a visor, cigarette hanging out of his mouth and two fingers banging away at a typewriter.

Well, no one I knew early in my newspaper career wore a visor.

With a crusty news editor always asking me to hurry, older reporters pulling rank and leaving me with the most clapped-out key-sticking Olivetti in the office, I buckled under the pressure and started two-fingered typing like everyone else.

I would still be a two-finger typist if that same scary news-editor had not pestered me often with commands of “make sure you use all those fingers, son.”

Typewriters were simple contraptions.

I am not sure they had changed a whole lot since the first QUERTY keyboard was invented in 1873. In fact, I was pretty sure that one of the early prototypes was kept in our office and forced upon the newest employee.

But there were only 54 keys, not 102 like on my PC.

And I knew what all of them were supposed to do.

They were mainly numbers and letters, exclamation marks and question marks.

I cannot remember any Num Locks or Scroll Locks.

Furthermore, if the typewriters malfunctioned they did not take a lot to repair.

Mostly, you just changed the ribbon or cleaned the ink from the keys or cleaned the layer of cigarette ash from the tray or found someone in the office even lower on the food chain than you, pulled rank and requisitioned theirs.

You cannot easily swap a computer with an underling though.

The monitors seem to be attached to your desk and can only be removed on a trolley by a computer technician muttering what a moron you must have been to hit the Pause button.

©September 10, 2002 John Martin. All Rights Reserved

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