Can You Touch Type?
Relax. Mastering Digital Just Takes A Little Effort
For as long as I can remember, I have typed using the ring finger of my right hand and the index finger of my left hand. I cannot touch type. My guess is that this technique has enabled me to write more words than there are in Tolstoy’s War and Peace (587,287).
As for taking notes, I never learned shorthand. Over decades, I have accumulated enough notebooks, probably illegible, to fill trunks in the garage and more recently many boxes now stored in the basement of Goldfarb Library at Brandeis University in climate-controlled circumstances. There are many more in file cabinets at home.
And it has been years since my last Smith Corona typewriter was put away somewhere and lost. I now wish I had had it bronzed or mounted to the wall as an ornament. My Italian Olivetti was especially stylish.
Why do you think these personal facts are worth sharing?
Because there are countless millions of us who have spent considerable amounts of time – in my case more than a half century – in the analog world who in recent years have had to master the challenges of an era in which technology determines how we are expected to communicate. Digital dominates. I have an iPhone, an iPad, and an HP laptop, each with its own systems and quirks. I have Bluetooth earphones. I have chargers and charger cords in different sizes.
Okay, so what’s your point?
Along the way as adults, we had to learn how to do a great many things to function in the world. A major turning point for nearly everyone comes around the age of sixteen, with driving lessons, including parallel parking and (for those of us in a certain generation) using a clutch and stick shift, and maybe changing a tire. This had to be taught by instructors or family members because it was not instinctive, like walking, running, or (even after a few mishaps) riding a bicycle. You had to pass a test to get a license.
In much the same way, we all have to learn how to use today’s indispensable technology, and this is the central point: It is almost completely not instinctive.
Most of the rules and requirements of technology systems were devised by engineers (they go by other tech-era names) who too often think and write in jargon and expect us to decipher their meaning. Bureacratic language compounds the problem. In early 2021, when only the elderly were allowed to schedule vaccine appointments, the New York City form required uploading the front and back of a Medicare card and other codes and details – enough to discourage all but the most resolute of applicants for what was considered a potentially life-saving procedure
Explain the difference.
To use a typewriter, you put paper in the roller and hit the keys. To listen to the radio, watch television, or place a phone call, the process was as easy as turning on the machine or picking up the receiver. Even the early word processors of the 1980s – I had an Apple Writer II – were an on-off proposition. To send a letter or postcard, you affixed a stamp and sent it off, confident that it would reach its destination.
Each of our multiple devices and systems now have protocols, described in detail in lengthy forms that I doubt anyone reads. (Imagine having to write these.) Whereas Ma Bell – the old AT&T before it was broken up in the 1980s – had essentially one means for use. By contrast, today’s tech companies are in competition for your attention, as exclusively as possible because profit is the objective.
Apple is its own universe and has a full array of offerings, usually at a steep price. On PCs, you are probably in the hands of Microsoft. When recently Microsoft encouraged me to upgrade from Outlook 10 to 11, assuring me that it was in my interest, after stumbling around for several days looking for the “start” key (also used for shutting down), I finally succeeded in going back to my old friend at 10. “Upgrade,” is as often a warning of confusion ahead as it is of improvement.
Forgot your password?
Most of us now have one phone number unless you have more than one phone. Landlines are disappearing. Depending on your situation, you have one or two email addresses. But you are encouraged – threatened with dire consequences for not taking the suggestion – to have a variety of passwords with numbers, letters and symbols and are expected to change them regularly. Add to that the security codes, double verification, account numbers and questions about the name, for instance, of your first dog, and your personal ledger can look like hieroglyphics.
There are password managers and similar storage apps, yet another of the assistances for which you may well be billed. What finally worked for me in keeping track of all those sign-ins and passwords was a small notebook in which all the information was inscribed and with a flick of a pencil stroke could be updated. But do not carry it with you unless you’ve never lost your wallet or keys. Make a copy of it as a precaution.
How efficient is email?
Email is what postal mail used to be, the standard way to send information, personal and official messages, and a repository for unsolicited ones.
Texts are more akin to conversations, the way talking over the telephone always was.
The problem is that email is so pervasive that its impact is too often minimized. And when an email goes unanswered, the natural question is why? Did it to go to spam or promotions? Is the recipient too busy, uninterested, or rude?
When I think an email is important, I usually send a text saying that it is coming. And finally, I’ll put in a call. A telephone call is sufficiently unusual to get noticed – in a way that a handwritten letter is almost certain to be read.
And I’ve concluded that two aspects of email can be fraught – not including all those sentiments and secrets that can be accessed forever thereafter.
Making an appointment just by email can be tricky. A typo on date, time or venue and someone is miffed or left standing.
And it is best to keep messages straightforward. Irony and sarcasm don’t travel well.
As for emojis, consider me fusty. I’ve never used one.
So, what’s your recommendation?
There is no alternative to learning how to use modern communication. We are all expected to be administrators of devices, services, and subscriptions. If you find today’s system intimidating, it is not your fault, as too often the tech-savvy and customer service representatives make you feel. “No worries,” as one of the clichés du jour goes. After all, you probably did learn how to drive.
Our analog world may have been slower and clunkier. But it was, on the whole, easier to grasp. The digital challenges are the cost of progress.