Nos­tal­gic tools of trade

Whither the pen­cil, Rolodex or a roll of film?

The Hamilton Spectator - - LOCAL - PAUL BER­TON

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 pber­ton@thes­pec.com

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