Thursday, December 15, 2011

Becoming Extinct

Earlier this week someone gave me a gift of an English-to-Swedish phrase book.  For a tiny volume, it is amazingly complete, covering every possible emergency or need, all the way down to "I need a typewriter ribbon, please."  It got me to wondering how many shop clerks, Swedish or otherwise, know what a typewriter ribbon is.

Which led me to pondering other things that I used to use all the time that are no more, things like camera film, reel-to-reel tape, phonograph records and, to a certain extent, fountain pens.

And this, of course, got me to realizing once again that I'm acquainted with only two other people who know Gregg shorthand.  It isn't even taught anymore.  Neither is cursive writing, I understand, but that is a subject for another rant time.

For many years I made my living as a typist of dissertations for Ph.D. students at a big university.  It was fascinating work; I learned intricate details of narrow subjects indeed, and took particular satisfaction in the setting up of the footnotes and bibliography.  I used #20 bond paper, an electric typewriter, and changed my ribbon frequently.  I could make an imperceptible erasure.  I loved meeting the students and making their research work beautiful.  Now word processing programs, I believe, have pretty much made that occupation obsolete.

Another job I held for a long time was medical transcriptionist.  Doctors in hospitals would dictate their reports into casette tape recording machines, the transcription service/middle man would pick up the tapes, log them in, and deliver them to the homes of the transcriptionists.  I'd have 24 hours to get my tapes transcribed and have the work ready for pick up.  Again, I learned a lot of very peculiar, specialized terminology and information.  Now casette tapes are very difficult to find, and voice-activated software produces the discharge summaries and operative reports.  Medical transcriptionists are no more; they are being replaced by transcript editors who read the magically-produced reports and check for context errors.

It's an odd feeling, this becoming extinct.  I find myself wondering what other commonplace items and experiences will become obsolete in my lifetime.

So it is a bit comforting to imagine that there is an area in Dalarna, Sarna, perhaps, or Rattvik, that is so rural and behind-the-times that someone like me would feel right at home.  I'd see if I could still find my old IBM Selectric and wander into the local stationer's shop and most politely request a  Färgband till skrivmaskin.  And then I'd get to typing.

13 comments:

Janet O. said...

Interesting thoughts, Nancy. My 81-year-old Mom just gave up typing for word processing on a computer within the last 5 years. She was the last person I knew who owned a typewriter--and she knows Gregg shorthand! : )
I'm still struggling with the "no cursive" thing. Must be the school teacher in me.

Anya said...

I know Gregg shorthand! And I still remember a lot of it! Perhaps I'll send you a note someday...

Nancy said...

Excellent post.

Have you tried purchasing stationery recently? It is very difficult to find, and once it is found, very little choice is given.

HDL said...

I began teaching "penmanship" both printing and cursive against the wishes of a few. The reason is quite interesting: my students asked to learn it and they LOVE it! There is value in the process way beyond the ability to communicate clearly.
Perhaps not all is lost yet!

Blue Ridge Mountains said...

I took two years of Gregg shorthand but never used it. We still have a manual typewriter in one of the closets upstairs.

Pat said...

Very interesting post!

I remember asking for a typewriter for Christmas my Junior year in high school. It was the only gift I got that year because it was a very big deal. Then I needed stuff called Corrasable Bond to type my term papers on when I went to college. Remember that?

Nancy, Joe must remember using a slide rule when he was in school. Who the heck knows what they are any more? I remember my dad, a pharmacist, having enormous volumes called the PDR (Physicians Desk Reference) for various drugs. My SIL, the nurse, has a PDR too, but his is on his PDA -- and it gets updated continually via the internet. My daughter is as likely to search for a recipe on the web as she is to look through cookbooks. My 2 year old granddaughter can use an iPad.

And look how quilting has changed!

We're dinosaurs, I tell, dinosaurs!

Susan said...

Mom and I used to use the container from her typewriter ribbons to hold our sewing pins!

Anonymous said...

I have my father's typewriter and even though he was fairly proficient on the computer until his death at age 90 in 2001, he still liked the typewriter and I will not part with it. I "typed" for 50 years first on a manual, then a "selectric", then a mag card, then a main frame computer that took up a whole room, then a desktop, and now a laptop. What will I type on next as I am only 71!!! I, too, took Gregg and use it when I take notes as secretary for our church circle - in fact, did so just today!! Don't remember much so have made some of my own characters that make more sense to me. You missed slide projectors, perms where you were attached to the dryer and stunk for days, 45 and 78 rpm records (I still have some of these too.) Oh, for the good old days. The kids of today are glued to IPods, cell phones, TV in every room, video games, while we were glued to each other playing hopscotch, red rover, and hide & seek. Love, your CA cousin

Bobbi said...

A young friend posted her FB status yesterday: "a letter - like texting but with a pencil". Loved it

Anonymous said...

I never took shorthand and can't read it. But when I get a letter from my one friend, she sometimes uses shorthand symbols in it. I usually can guess what she means, but it shocked me at first. At this time, I don't think that I'm going to try and learn shorthand.
Thanks for sharing.
cindy

Quiltdivajulie said...

Oh my - the law office I work in uses voice dictated onto cassette tapes daily (I transcribe for two attorneys on a regular basis). Granted, I type on a computer (but we have a Selectric at the front desk - has a ball, not striker keys).

Dinosaurs we are (the younger attorneys use digital recordings and don't even know how ot use the typewriter).

AnnieO said...

The world changes much too fast! I have been a medical transcriptionist for 22 years--and when I began my career I was told it was going to be obsolete within a few years...I still pick up tapes from a psychiatrist I work for occasionally, and although the hospital I work for uses digital files, I still have a headset and footpedal :)

Vicky said...

I know Gregg. I started court reporting in 1971, and used a steno pad, a pencil, and typed the transcript on a manual typewriter with (gasp!) carbons. Eventually switched over to more modern methods ... I still use shorthand when taking notes in meetings. And there's still a typewriter on my desk - right next to my computer!