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Learning to Type

Back in 1998, when I first discovered the joy of IRC – Internet Relay Chat – I was happily typing text into the chat-box of my ugly IRC client software when the Canadian lady I met and befriended online who was at the other end begged me to slow down.

“Rex!” she typed, “Slow down! I can’t keep up with you!”

I was just typing my thoughts instinctively that I did not realize that text from me was flooding her chat window. Then, she intimated that she was typing with just two fingers.

Actually, partida pa ‘yun. It was early morning for me and I was sipping at my mug of black coffee in between pokes at the Enter key.

“Sorry,” I apologized. “I must have been a clerk in my previous lifetime.” She agreed that I must have been; and I was careful not to type too fast since.

My eldest sister grew up with the nuns; and the fact that the rest of us grew up with the Brothers always meant that the rest of us could always turn our noses up at her with disdain if we wanted to for her inability to type. Naturally, the nuns were more worried about how their pupils enunciated their vowels and syllables. The Brothers were preparing us for careers.

Alright… So maybe clerical skills were not necessarily the gauge of ambition… Still, the typing skills I learned in high school have served me in good stead all these years; and in different lines of work at that.

Perhaps, I and my classmates were fortunate in that we took Typing as a course two years in a row when we were freshmen and then again the next year when we were sophomores. There must have been a change of curriculum; although, I really do not know.

Some of the machines in the Typing Room were certifiable museum pieces even in 1971. I am talking about none other but the Underwood machines that looked like they had been purchased straight off a USAFFE auction. I am not kidding when I say that they looked like they had been used in World War II.

The Olympia machines were not exactly new, either. Still, although we all rotated so each got bonding time with both the Underwood and the Olympia, arguments could still break out over who used what for the simple reason that the Olympia was – if not new – at least newer.

Younger readers whose experience of typing is limited to soft-touch keyboards will, naturally, not have the foggiest what I am talking about. It is like this, kids. For the Underwood machines, you did not need fingers. You needed claws. Moreover, your claws needed to be made of iron.

I know this is not just exaggerating things a bit; sobra lang talaga sa ganit. I used to wonder if we were not only being trained for clerical work but also para magmasa ng harina sa panaderia from all the exertions our fingers were getting.

The other machines were not as rigid; so everyone made the most of the whole week if one was assigned to an Olympia typewriter.

These Typing classes were actually monotonous affairs. Before we even touched the machines, we were required to memorize the placements of the letters – what is now referred to as the QWERTY.

Then, we were asked to type the same words over and over again until it became instinctive to use the proper finger for each letter. As we became more adept, we began typing paragraphs and learned all about formatting. Piece of cake!

Except that, at the end of the course, we were supposed to have learned how to type 60 words in one minute – without looking down at the keys!

We all soon realized that the wooden meter stick that the teacher carried to class was not really for measuring anything. It was to take a nick at the fingers of anyone who looked down at the keys. Everyone looked down when he was not looking, anyway!

I do not recall if I really passed any of the speed tests. What I remember is that I used to have real trouble with the edge letters – Q, A, Z along with the opposite keys for the left hand – because I always had the utmost difficulty pushing down with any force using the little fingers of both hands.

In fact, I only really started typing at full speed when computers came along.

These said, I still got myself exemptions from my college Typing courses – two semesters of them, as a matter of fact. Of course, how the ability to type has helped me at work is immeasurable. Where another colleague would labour for a quarter of an hour typing a simple business letter, I could always do the same thing at a fraction of the time.

Strange as it may sound, but migrating to a computer was not as seamless as one would possibly expect. Initially, my right arm kept raising itself to pull at a lever that was no longer there – the lever that was, with the typewriter, used to move on to the next line.

It also took a while to curb the itch to reach for a Touch-and-Go whenever I erroneously typed a letter. With the typewriter, the Touch-and-Go was the only salvation.

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