So I had joined writing group without bringing anything I’d actually written so I just typed this directly onto the phone upon which I am posting this. This is probably never going to see the light of day anyway so screw first publishing rights, I did this to slack off anyway.
This took me 90 Minutes.
75 WORDS PER MINUTE. At one time such rapid movement of fingertips was considered a specialized job skill – one of the few job skills, in fact, made commonly available to women (aside from housewife or housekeeper for the wealthy). Today, the average high school student is capable of similar speeds through both academic and social necessity. Despite cries of the “MTV Generation” and thirty second attention spans destroying the current generation’s interest in reading, editions penmanship, today’s youth is exponentially more engaged in reading and writing than any generation before. In fact, the progression of technology itself is very closely tied to not only the technology of communication, but the social means and incentive for communicating as well.
No doubt practically everybody has some image of early communication – cave paintings on walls as depicted by everything from The Louvre to neatly equally ancient Bugs Bunny cartoons. However, such simplistic caricatures of early communication is just that – caricatures. Non-verbal communication during the dawn of humankind evolved through a series of processes culminating into hieroglyphics and cuneiform, and eventually Phoenician, the precursor of Western writing. Western writing is said to offer tremendous advantages over Eastern-style writing forms thanks to its completely interchangeable character system verses the glyph/pictogram system with literally nearly every single word represented by a unique character. One would think this presents a major challenge in rapid typed communication – yet consider that the Japanese, Chinese and Koreans not only became early adopters of texting tech, but where the first to publish novels enRESTRAIten and read on cell phones (during the days when people were still impressed with phones resembling Star Trek communicators no less) with cell phone novels from these nations greatly outnumbering those from the West. Also consider the invention and rise of the Twitter novel – an entire manuscript written 140 characters at a time. Even YouTube comments have been evaluated and mined for literary merit and content.
History is peppered with examples of great creative and literary works produced from the confines and restraints of typing technology. From understanding these technological and social constraints we better understand the evolution of writing, communication and storytelling itself.
Chapter 1 The Typewriter and the rise of the professional typist
For the vast majority of human history the most sophisticated mechanical means of typing involved intricately carving letters from wooden blocks, in the exact redundancy called for on the single page to be typeset, and then painstakingly arranged in the exact order the page called for fore before being inked and pressed by various means from human muscle (with generous helping of mechanical advantage) to harnessed water power – then repeated for every single page of the entire manuscript. Although hailed as a miracle invention – indeed, one of the greatest inventions in human history – Gutenberg’s brainchild was nonetheless laborious and time consuming, an economic liability for today’s sensibilities. Let alone, imagine, the primary means of manuscript in prior – artisans painstakingly reproducing each letter as if itself was a masterpiece.
It wasn’t until the 19th century when the individual was empowered with rapid documentation capability. Although the genesis of typing machines nearly go back as far as the printing press itself, the first modern typewriters didn’t come along until industrialization and metal fabrication made these emails intricate, complex machines possible. After the American Civil War, the Sholes and Glidden typewriter was intrigued – the one machine that would most influence Western typing culture and even the workforce to this day.
Originally the layout of the Sholes and Glidden is exactly as you’d most logically expect – with the keys outlaid in alphabetical order. Perhaps equally unsticking, Christopher Glidden Sholes and Cake S. Glidden were also veteran printers themselves. They had to extensively studied British typewriters of the time – slow, cumbersome machines that left much to be desired in the user-friendly department and tended to jam far too frequently to be of much actual use. Sholes and Glidden’s first solution was to improve the mechanical reliability of the machine itself through extensive engineering study and trial and error – however their efforts were unable to produce a machine sufficiently improved over contemporary efforts. Glidden lost interest (perhaps he might’ve had more success 140 years later developing Twitter and instead) and responsibility was left to Sholes and a new investor. Also, the Remington and Sons manufacturing group became highly interested in the machine as the conclusion of the Civil War meant a marked slowdown in their primary firearms business.
Sholes quickly made a discovery regarding why typing machines had such abysmal reliability. Typewriters function through a press that indents an inked letter onto a page once the corresponding key has been pressed, and then return to position through gravity. However, with the alphabetically arranged keyboard, typists were simply typing too fast for the machine to cope with – the presses would jam into each other before gravity could return them to rest position. A mechanical solution eluded Sholes for too long, so he settled on another – rearrange the keys. By studying how the presses interfered, he simply rearranged them to eliminate the interference. The result is now the classic QWERTY keyboard arrangement – so determined so as to accommodate a key pattern bereft of presses tangling into each other.