Nostalgic tools of trade
Whither the pencil, Rolodex or a roll of film?
Do you know what a typewriter looks like?
A dumb question perhaps. But there are likely a few of you reading this who might say no.
And there will certainly be more tomorrow.
Soon thereafter, a new batch of people might not be able to describe a newspaper. Or ever have handled one. It seems hard to believe now, but that day may come.
One day soon, a newspaper box in a museum will generate disbelief: These things once populated street corners by the thousands? People put coins in them?
There are already youngsters today who look befuddled when presented with a land-line telephone, let alone those things with a dial.
Some barely notice phone booths, never mind knowing what they are for. Others have never used directory assistance, or a long-distance operator. Or a phone book. Or an answering machine.
Or recognize a TV antenna atop a roof. Or a roll of film. A rural mailbox. A transistor radio, or a clock radio.
A crumpled map in a glove compartment. A Rolodex. A slide rule. Yellowed newspaper clippings and library paste.
Life seems to creep along when you’re living it, but time goes by fast in retrospect. The world transforms before our eyes, but we don’t always see it happening. And things never stay the same, despite our endless resistance to change.
One day, we’re fighting crowds in the mall to get an item on sale; the next day that same item is little more than a curiosity. But some things endure too. The typewriter may be in scant evidence in the West, but millions still depend on them in India, for example. And typewriters are still being manufactured.
Ditto the fountain pen. You may see them only as status symbols or collectibles around here, but they are common in schools and elsewhere in Europe.
The pencil, still a favourite to this very day with journalists everywhere for its simplicity, adaptability and reliability, may not as ubiquitous as it once was, but it’s not going extinct quite yet. Neither is the fuse box, the jukebox, the washboard, or the straight razor.
The typewriter in one form or another has been around for more than 200 years. The fountain pen has been around 500 years. So has the pencil, probably longer. The abacus, a calculating tool invented 4,000 years ago, is still in use around the world today, but it’s not as if anyone around here would notice.
Now compare this to the eighttrack tape: only 15 years. The cassette deck: 30 years tops. In future, technical wonders such as the Walkman, the overhead projector, the photocopier, the fax machine and the pager will not get even 15 minutes in the history books, let alone the hundreds of years afforded to newspapers. Neither, for that matter, will all manner of various digital startups, social media apps and virtual news organizations.
Very soon, that window crank on your parents’ Chevy will be as obscure as the crank your greatgrandparents used to start the Model T.
Whatever the future holds, true obscurity is a lot further away for the typewriter, the pencil, or the newspaper.
Paul Berton is editor-in-chief of The Hamilton Spectator and thespec.com. You can reach him at 905-526-3482 or email@example.com