When I was 18 and living in England, my mother and father had recently divorced. My mother's family was keen for her to move back to Canada and my older siblings and I encouraged her to start a new life back in the place where she had grown up. After much worrying about us, my mother decided to act on the opportunity and a year later we were waving farewell to her at Heathrow Airport. For me, I knew it would be a short farewell because I intended joining her in a year or two, after I had found a career that I could transport to Canada.
My first choice of a career was that of a teacher in history but I thought that my knowledge of European and English Parliamentary history would not be very useful in Canada. Then I decided I would get a "stop-gap" job. So I went to community college to take an Executive Assistant course, with specialties in Economics and Accounting. The "stop-gap" lasted 17 years.
I was introduced to my first typewriter in 1978. It was a "manual" typewriter; I had to hit the keys very hard with my fingers so that a piece of metal on a long handle would fly up and hit the black typewriter ribbon and then make the letter on the blank piece of paper.
Before long I was able to type 70 wpm (words per minute). My friends marvelled at how fast I could type and I felt proud of myself! I also took shorthand but that story is not something I will go into here because I was pathetic at it. We were not allowed to use white-out at college and had to make corrections with typewriter eraser pencils (as if it wasn't taking long enough to type a letter!).
I also learned the Gestetner machine, which had a large metal drum and you typed on plastic paper which was then attached to the drum and you turned a big crank handle to run off large amounts of copies. Errors on the plastic paper were corrected with red liquid plastic and my documents always seemed to have more than their fair share of red spots. There was also the "thermal imager", which was the closest thing to a copier. It heated up and somehow burned words onto the page - you didn't want to get too close to that puppy! And, of course, there was the telex machine for sending messages across the country.
My first job was at a temp agency and it was great experience being sent to various businesses and meeting all kinds of people. It looked fabulous on my resume too, when many jobs wanted experience in their field and I had been able to have a few weeks in so many different companies.
But then came the electric typewriter. I clearly remember going to a temporary job and warning my employer that I was not used to an "electric". I wasted so much paper that day that it was ludicrous. I pressed my finger hard on a letter, as I was used to doing with a manual typewriter, to find that the letter was duplicated many times across the page - the typewriter seemed to have a mind of its own. I bought my own electric to overcome this obstacle.
When I finally joined my mother in Calgary, Canada, I immediately got a job in an insurance office and was the receptionist who typed cheques in her spare moments. It was then that I really started to curse carbon paper. I had become incredibly fast at back-spacing and correcting errors with white-out but carbon paper does not allow you to hide those errors very well, especially not on cheques! Thank God for the invention of cheque-making machines!
Later, I worked for an accounting firm and remember typing columns of figures by calculating the amount of spaces across the page, counting the number of columns and the number of figures in each, then dividing that number in half and starting to backspace from the centre of the page to the appropriate spot to begin. I look back on that and cannot believe how time consuming it was - and then only to be told that a change was needed and we had to start over!
Photocopiers had arrived too and we devoted 10' x 12' rooms just to house the largest copiers.
After moving to Mississauga I was given a Phillips electric typewriter-computer. It was a machine where typing a document was recorded on a small magnetic tape and then you could play the tape and it would automatically type out what you had previously entered. It allowed you to stop and correct any pieces and then you continued with the document by using the tape again. It was probably the most time-consuming, utterly ridiculous machine I have ever used.
In 1986, I moved to Vancouver and worked for an accounting firm where I was introduced to a huge IBM computer. It was like watching a TV screen with green letters on a grey background. When I sent something to print, I had to walk half way around the office to collect my printed work from a machine that looked like a cabinet with a large plexi-glass top. It was almost as tall as I was.
About six months later, I was asked to work at the Vancouver office of the accounting firm I had worked for in Mississauga, Clarkson Gordon (or, as it is now known, Ernst & Young). It was there that I fell in love with a computer - a brand new Macintosh. The Mac looked like a box and it is the computer in the picture of Steve Jobs in his early days which appeared on the cover of Time magazine. It was so easy to use and so easy to cover up my mistakes - yay! I used an Excel program for the first time and loved it. All of my computer training was on that Mac, which was very unusual because most other people were working on an IBM computer at the time. Our accounting firm decided on the Mac because it was easy to line up columns of figures. It had no f1, f2 or other f keys and to this day I still have no idea how to use them. It was then that I was first introduced to email and I was the only one in the office allowed to use it because of security concerns.
My last job, before I was diagnosed with HIV, was as a secretary to the Secretary Treasurer of a School District and think I got the job based not only on my experience as a secretary in accounting firms but also because of my experience on the Mac. Thank you, Steve Jobs!
As I sit here, typing on my laptop, and sending this blog by email, having been on Twitter and Facebook this morning, I look over to an old portable typewriter that I have and think what a wonderful piece of machinery it is. Life used to be a lot slower then and I enjoyed the clatter that the typewriters made. I am so happy that I have been a working part of a communications revolution but one thing that I miss are all the letters my father used to write me from England. I have kept them and love to see his handwriting. I wonder if people will actually know what their parents or childrens' handwriting looks like in the future.
I may have aged but the experiences I had along the way with changing technology were fascinating and well worth it.