Most Iconic Duo: And So it was Written
... at least for the last 4,500 years
Behind every story is a writer—someone who painstakingly strings words together. The goal is simple: to trigger an emotional response.
The need to express oneself has existed since the beginning of time. In early childhood, we used body movements and vocal cues to tell caretakers what we needed or react to specific tastes and sounds.
It was language learning that allowed us to weave tales, often reciting broken sentences.
Learning to write would change that.
Putting pen to paper
I still remember putting a pencil to large sheets of lined and dashed paper, practicing letters of the alphabet. After nailing this down, I'd form words and eventually learn cursive.
Growing up during the pre-internet days meant using simpler methods of passing the time. We'd play tic-tac-toe, hangman, and a slew of other games on the back of used dot matrix printer paper my father brought home from work. My older brother would use the same recycled paper to create character sheets for Dungeons & Dragons.
By middle school, I had graduated to using a pen. It needed to be blue, but many of us begged our parents for the BIC 4-Color Ballpoint. The click-style instrument could write in blue, black, red, or green. Our teachers would eventually ban the relatively new contraption because of the clicking sounds we'd make out of anxiety or boredom.
Erasable pens were a blessing when writing essays in high school. Before these, we had to restart homework to avoid turning in a paper riddled with strikeouts.
Side note: Launched in 1979, Paper Mate's Erasermates didn't use actual ink. The pen adhered a layer of a liquid rubber cement solution. If you ever went to make changes a day or two later, you likely left behind some colorful residue. Erasable "ink" could only be cleanly removed for the first 8-10 hours.
The typewritten word
I didn't know it at the time, but learning to type was hands-down the most valuable mechanical task in high school. I can still hear the instructor, pacing the room as she called out letters one at a time. The clicking of her high-heeled shoes could occasionally be heard through the clacks the dozen or so IBM Selectrics made.
I'd practice at home, borrowing my father's vintage manual Remington hardcase typewriter. The solid, green plastic keys mounted on metal arms were a chore to press. The manual ribbon, expensive and hard to find, was used until words could faintly be deciphered.
When I volunteered to work on the school yearbook, it was because of the tactile keys of the electric typewriter. There's a picture of me retyping photo captions somewhere. It's probably buried deep in a box of memories at my parents' house.
I was in heaven the day my mother brought home a Brother Daisy Wheel Electronic Typewriter. The portable unit had a snap lid and handle. The ability to change the typeface by inserting a different wheel was appealing. Still, I never compromised the perfectly sized serif typeface. I seemingly had an endless supply of Brother ribbon and lift-off correction tape.
During Junior and Senior year, I could write on cue. I'd rush home during lunch hour to write my English reports, due that afternoon. I can still vividly hear the sound of the wheel as it spun and raised, slapping a letter onto the ink ribbon as quick as my fingers would move.
I'd take that Brother typewriter to college, where expectations were much higher.
Editing was a treacherous process. Most articles had to be retyped at least a handful of times. My work needed to be perfect to get the desired grade.
Somewhere along the line, I upgraded to the Panasonic KX-W900 word-processing typewriter. It had a 7-line, 80 character display that allowed me to edit as I typed. I don't remember how I got my hands on this little gem, but it saved my tail many nights while writing on deadline.
My first major purchase as a so-called adult (I was 20), was the Panasonic W1505 Word Processor. Now, this was some cutting-edge technology. The W1505 included a monochrome screen and could save text to memory or a 3.5" floppy disk. You could also store an address list for mail merge.
The W1505 sported a 9" display that could accommodate 25 lines of text. It had three typing pitches (10, 12, and 15), and could format double-spaced lines. You could add 120 entries to the 63,000-word dictionary! It could print 12 characters per second, which meant I needed about nine minutes to print a typical paper before darting to class.
I believe I paid in the $500-$600 range for the Panasonic, and the 3.5" floppy disks were a few bucks each. When you factor in the ribbon and correction tape, and my writing hours every day, it was an expensive investment for the early 1990s. Thankfully, I had a Dillard's store card. I'd take a few years to pay things off.
It would take more than three years to save up for my first personal computer. It ran Windows 3.1. I'd already grown accustomed to Apple machines I used in both high school and college journalism classes. However, I couldn't afford any of the software. Windows had several built-in tools and a wide variety of low-cost programs.
A major downside switching to a PC was, it couldn't read the Panasonic disks, so I'd spend the first few months retyping what was housed on scores of floppies. I set both machines side by side, reading original text off the Panasonic's bright screen—anything to save spending money on reams of paper.
Ahh, the power of writing 'til I could move my fingers no more. My first PC lasted about three years before I delved into the all-popular Compaq. By then, I'd amassed several drawers full of disks. I'd later spend a weekend transferring all the data to Zip disks. A 100MB Zip disk could hold about 30 floppy disks. I needed a dozen of them.
With eyes growing tired from the glare of the screen, I upgraded my Epson inkjet to an HP laser printer to crank out pages for the editing process. A red pilot rollerball pen in my right hand, I'd circle and mark changes galore before returning to the keyboard. I'd use this method for the next 15 years.
Ink and paper. The most iconic duo.
The first writing ink is believed to come from the Egyptians and the Chinese in 2500 BC. Made by mixing carbon with gum, it was shaped into sticks one could then dip into water. Early flexible writing surfaces were scrolls made from papyrus. Reeds would be used for writing, but their dull edges made them less than ideal. The quill harnessed the longest traction in the writing world, popular since its inception in the 7th century. It would hold steady well into the 1800s when the fountain pen was developed.
Papermaking can be traced to about AD 105 when a Chinese official created a sheet of paper from mulberry, fishnets, hemp waste, and other fibers. It would take more than 600 years before Baghdad brought papermaking to Europe.
Paper mills surfaced in Europe during the 14th century. But it was the invention of printing in the 1450s that sparked significant demand for paper. Linen and cotton rags trumped other materials until the 18th century when wood and vegetable pulps made large-scale production possible.
The invention of the modern papermaking process changed everything. It's responsible for every story you experience today—from the daily newspaper to movies on the big screen.
The affordability of ink and paper production is what led to worldwide literacy.
Today I print little. With a retina display, speech-to-text technology, and useful apps, I can write and edit from anywhere. The bulk of my work is read on digital devices.
Every now and then, I print something to share with my mother-in-law, who still can't figure out how to text or use Facebook. When I travel, I find fantastic local postcards to mail to family, a heartfelt message written on the back. I still buy or make greeting cards.
Over the years, word processors and computers cost me tons of money. Some of the expenditures were offset by my reservation to print pages until absolutely necessary. But without ink and paper, there'd be few able to read the words on the screen.