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Saturday, 26 March 2011

Tonight: Earth Hour - Use a Typewriter

More often than not, I don't recognise the numbers of the missed calls on my mobile telephone. But, then, I'm a Luddite, and that means not being sufficiently savvy about modern technology to catch a number, associate it with a name and key the name into my list of contacts. For one thing, my phone hasn't got a QWERTY keyboard. For another, I'm all thumbs when it comes to texting, or whatever else one can do with a mobile phone.

It's quite possible, therefore, that Australian Greens senator Christine Milne or one of her staff had tried unsuccessfully to contact me before Milne came out with her suggestion about Australians using Earth Hour to compose letters to the nation’s leaders. Milne said “while you have the lights out, sit and think about the letter you are going to write [asking] for deep cuts in greenhouse gas emissions. Use the time to construct the letter and let's get really big changes on climate change.” Had Milne got in touch, I might well have suggested Australians could go one step further, and that she should have urged them to actually type such letters. It would be easy enough to do, by the light of a candle or an olive oil lamp, and using a manual portable typewriter, as environmentally friendly a writing instrument as still exists. As Milne said, Earth Hour focuses us “on the simple, long-term changes people can make to reduce their environmental impact”. There's little as simple, as durable and as reliable as a manual portable typewriter.
The Earth Hour people offered a “footprint calculator” on their website, In my case, I'm ashamed to say, the calculator told me “If everyone lived like you, we'd need 3.4 Planet Earths to provide enough resource. It takes 6.2ha of Earth's productive area to support your lifestyle.” Maybe if I typecast, things might be slightly different.

I realised I should be doing more about this disgraceful footprint one night when I caught a glimpse of the documentary Titus: The Gorilla King on ABC TV. In one heart-stirring scene, an actor playing Dian Fossey was shown furiously typing notes on an Olivetti Lettera 32 portable in the heart of a Rwandan jungle. Indeed, Fossey did this for almost 20 years, from 1966, at 3000m. I wondered how a modern-day Fossey would cope, using, say, a laptop. Not very well, I suggest, and probably not without some sort of damage to the gorilla habitat.

Some time ago I was invited to talk about typewriters at a local Rotary Club. This came about as a result of one of my newspaper columns, in which I had described my computer woes - one PC went belly-up in what an IT expert described as “spectacular fashion” and the replacement reacted rather badly to being fed a new Windows operating program. The Rotarians wanted me to talk about how we got on before computers.

My research for the presentation led me to suggest - and I think I might have actually carried the day on this - that manual portable typewriters could be taken to places laptops simply can't go. Naturally, typewriters can be used for far longer periods.
To illustrate my point, I dug out some marvellous images. One was of Edmund Hillary (above) hunting and pecking on a little portable at the foot of Mt Everest in 1953. Another showed an Olivetti Valentine being used on a desert island. A third, with which I was particularly delighted, was of Geoffrey Lee-Martin, my chief-of-staff on The New Zealand Herald in Auckland in the late 1960s, typing a story on an Empire Aristocrat while surrounded by penguins at Cape Royds, Antarctica, in January 1956, when he was covering Hillary's Commonwealth Trans-Antarctic Expedition.
I showed these machines in my talk, along with a Simplex index typewriter. Simplexes were used by soldiers at the Western Front in World War I. One surviving example is a letter saying, “I've saved 17 shillings and 6 pence, can you please send me some warm socks?” Another exhibit was a 117-year-old Blickensderfer, the ink in it still as fresh as it was in 1893.

The bottom lines are these: To use a computer as a word processor - in the way of a typewriter - it needs a printer, and a printer needs not just one or more ink cartridges, but a computer to drive it. They both need electricity, which means a power cord, a power outlet, and on and on through a power grid to a power station. None of it very environmentally friendly. A laptop can operate from battery power, but how long does that last? Not long in the Himalayas, the South Pole, on a desert island or at 3000m in a Rwandan jungle, not even with a solar-powered recharger. No such problem with a manual portable typewriter!
This may forever be the case. QWERTY may go, but the typewriter? Never! Last year, Rory Sutherland (above), who writes “The Wiki Man” column in Britain’s The Spectator magazine, suggested Apple's Steve Jobs suffers from koumpounophobia, or a fear of buttons. This was because of the way Jobs appeared to be headed with his new technology, to a world of communicating without anything to press. The QWERTY keyboard, Sutherland said, was indeed due for replacement. But, “Whatever its successor, the point-and-peck system iPhone is not it”. All of which, of course, was blasphemy and bah-humbug to a Luddite like me. How, for example, would we ever be able to write a letter to the Prime Minister during Earth Hour?


Ted said...

Luddites unite! I do happen to have a qwerty keyboard on my phone, but I have reached an age where I can't clearly read the tiny keys!

Your posts are always an interesting read, even for us in the States. makes me miss my aussie friends who came out for a few months some years ago - I never got tired of hearing them say "Al-loom-in-eee-um". :D

Richard P said...

How does one type outdoors in Antarctica, on a typewriter or on a laptop, without freezing one's fingers off?