Few people have heard of it, yet many consider John Blankenbaker's KENBAK-1 to be the first commercial personal computer.

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Typewriter Parable - How Far Have We Come?

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Years ago I was a teacher of computer graphics and video, and one day a student came to me in a panic. He needed a reference for the good people of the Financial Aid Office who were shuttering their doors in 15 minutes.  No problem – I'd just go to the main office and bang out the note on a typewriter. 

I scoured the entire computer department and there were no typewriters to be found. The dean of the department asked why I was causing such a rumpus, and when I explained he reminded me that it was the 90's and the computer department had no need of such paleolithic devices – even for a note that would take two minutes to type.

Frustrated, I fired up a computer and waited for it to boot. The laser printer lurched into action. A few minutes later all systems were go, I slammed out the note and sent it to the printer. A grateful but flustered student snatched the note from the printer and ran like a madman.

TypeboxoutI hadn't chosen a font, so the note came out in the default typeface: courier. That's right, the font that every typewriter uses. I reflected on this, bringing up to my boss that after all that effort it still looked like I'd used a typewriter. He replied excitedly, “Yeah, isn't that great?”.

Nothing I said could convince him that a typewriter would have been a much better tool in this instance. He talked about all the things I could do with the document once it was in the digital domain, rather than discussing the actual need I had and that the computer had been more of an obstacle than an aid. A device that changes a two minute job into a ten minute job isn't always the best option.

Before you accuse me of being a Luddite, I'll admit that I could never go back to writing on a typewriter.  Computers have made this task that defines my daily life much better, but there are times when a typewriter is exactly what you need. I'm a retro fan, but I don't just like old stuff out of a sense of winsome nostalgia. Sometimes those old things can still earn their keep.

related:

Tippa S portable typewriter
Hermes military-spec manual portable typewriter
Buy your own refurbed classic typewriter

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