As you may have seen in Gordon Bruce’s blog post a few days ago, today marks the 50 year anniversary of the IBM Selectric typewriter. Looking back at the history of the Selectric, it surprises me how this machine evokes emotions in so many people. More often than not, you’ll find someone willing to share a very personal story about their relationship with the Selectric and how it changed the way we interact with the written word.
Here’s mine. When I met my first IBM Selectric typewriter, I fell in love. It was the early 80s, my junior year in high school, and my mother insisted I take a typing class because you never know when typing might come in handy.
I didn’t like the idea of typing, I had tried hunting and pecking on our old sticky typewriter at home, but as the hammers would pound they’d stick and tangle and frustrate me. Yet when I walked into that industrial-looking high school classroom with row after row of new blue IBM Selectric typewriters, my world changed. Maybe it was the way the keys felt or the way the golf ball danced across the page imprinting each letter so clearly. The clicking sound was rhythmic and musical. In short typing to me became a sensory experience.
Like learning to type, I was also told at a young age that it was a good idea to take piano lessons. So for 10 long years prior, I halfheartedly took piano class every Wednesday afternoon. At the time I didn’t realize that when the dexterity from piano practice met the Selectric typewriter, I would suddenly make an entirely new kind of music. And this music wasn’t cacophonous like my awkward piano skills.
Soon I was typing faster and faster. I would type anything in sight for fun, soon reaching 100 words per minute, even competing in interscholastic typing contests. If you could have lettered in typing in high school, I guess that would have been my sport.
I think it was because of the Selectric that I later went on to journalism school where again I was embraced by a classroom with rows and rows of Selectric typewriters, tapping away in unison as we wrote our stories in the newsroom, proofreading and editing by hand and then retyping to perfection.
Then sadly, after one semester break we return to find that the blue Selectric typewriters disappeared from our familiar newsroom. Replacing each was a personal computer terminal with a dull plastic keyboard and a CRT monitor which glowed green. We were forced to adapt to this new technology and sadly the tactile pleasure of typing was never quite the same – event -despite turning on “sticky keys.”
As we recognize the 50th birthday of the Selectric typewriter along with the 100 year anniversary of IBM, I stop to wonder how this typewriter impacted others. Which of the world’s great novels were penned on a Selectric? What technology changing patents were first typed in triplicate? Which ground-breaking Supreme Court decisions and which leading screenplays were typed on this great machine?
Sadly, I haven’t typed on a Selectric in years, they don’t sell much Liquid Paper anymore, correction tape is a thing of the past, and the typewriter repairman I knew has long since retired. Nonetheless the Selectric still holds a special place in my heart.
Do you have a special memory of the Selectric typewriter ?
Also check out the video ‘IBM Selectric Typewriter & its digital to analogue converter ‘ by Engineer Guy, Bill Hammack.