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Reflections: Typewriters, Phones & Computers

Enjoy our “Reflections” post — one of many vignettes and stories featuring memories of days gone by. This installment is from Bettye H. Galloway as seen in Issue #51 of “The Oxford So & So.”
If you would like to contribute your own Reflections story, send it, along with photos, to hottytoddynews@gmail.com.

Royal Typewriter. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

When I was in school, my mother told me that whatever else I wanted to do, I needed to learn to type. “If you can type,” she told me, “you will never be hungry.” She was so right. She had attended the old Nelson Businesses College in Memphis and had worked for Judge Camille Kelly in the early 20th century; she thought she had had the best job available, and she was looking out for my welfare.
When I got out of school in the early 1950’s, the only jobs for inexperienced girls were in food services or in an office, and the office jobs were only available for those who were proficient in typing. Consequently, I typed for years, eight hours a day on an old upright manual Remington typewriter. As I advanced in the office, I was provided a new typewriter – an electric Royal typewriter with a round rotating instead of the individual keys that struck the platen one at a time. I thought it was a miracle machine and that nothing could surpass the Royal Electic. But I was sorely mistaken. Electric calculators were replacing manual adding machines and comptometers, although they were prohibitively expensive.
Those were the years when computers were plowing new ground, and only the large, well-financed corporations and institutions could afford to buy one. The first computer at the University of Mississippi was huge, occupying an entire climate-controlled room in a building full secured. Data input required the use of card inserts. These cards were first inserted into a stand-alone machine called a key-punch, and the operator typed in the desired information on a keyboard which instructed the machine to punch holes into the card; these cards were then read by the giant computer to generate the desired information –= all in all, a laborious process.  
Next came the magnetic card machine, referred to as a “Mag-Card.” The Mag-Card resembled a stand=alone typewriter which used a typewriter ribbon and keyboard and generated reports and letters individually or in mass that were identical to personally-produced communications. The magnetic card could be prepared as a file card using individual phrases or paragraphs, and the operator could simp.y dial the paragraphs to be included in the finished product without having to retype material each time it was needed. Computers, meanwhile, were making inroads into our society. Not only had they enabled the process of putting a man on the moon, but they were making advances in business and personal activities. My first introductions to the computer itself was the arrival of the cathode-ray tube (CRT) on my desk which allowed me to interact directly with the mainframe computer.
Soon afterward I was at Radio Shack when the employees were opening a newly-arrived shipment, and they were admiring two personal computers (PCs) which had been shipped to them. I was intrigued, and I bought one. The Radio Shack PC had an on-and-off switch and one diskette. That’s all. It used a program called Tris-Dos which means absolutely nothing to me, and it had no instruction booklet or anything to help. And I bought it. And if I remember correctly, it cost around $3,000. I have done a lot of foolish thins in my life, but this was not one. I loved that computer and had it for many years, learning bit by bit until I was quite accomplished in the use of it.
Telephones were also improving year by year. From the wall-mounted hand-cranked type, the rotary dial telephone year after year moved to the desktop. The style gradually changed, but the first major change was the cordless phone which was mounted on a home station but could be removed without the cord or talking while walking the house or yard. The next step for me was a mobile phone for the car. This phone literally came in a bag, was permanently connected to a large battery, and was used primarily for business and security purposes.
The mobile phone was succeeded by the smaller cell phone which could be charged daily without the necessity of carrying the burdensome large battery connected to it. The next logical step was the merger of the computer and the telephone. Although desktop computers continue to be worthwhile equipment in homes and offices, cell phones now have the capability of not only oral and written communications, but they also have computer capabilities in computing, archiving, and accessing email and the web.
Even today’s cars have built-in telephones. Wall-mounted crank telephones have progressed over the years into the iPhone of today, bringing computer capabilities with them. This week a friend showed me her wrist cell phone. Shades of Dick Tracey! What will be next?

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