Crank's Corner: Commentary by Linda Marcas

                                            Making Life Easier

    I bought another used portable typewriter this week, a Smith-Corona with a nifty blue metal body
and a cool black-and-white tweed fiberglass case.  So why am I typing this on the computer?  Good
question.  The typewriter needs a new ribbon, no big surprise, but I could put the ribbon from another
typewriter into the new one, if I felt like getting ink all over my fingers.  The new machine is also full of
eraser crumbs, and needs a good cleaning.  I could be doing this on the typewriter I usually use, but, as a
special concession to the editor of this paper, I am taking a detour into technology.

    Because I prefer to compose my column on a manual typewriter, (something to do with my
creative process) the good folks at the news office must type it over to put it into the computer there.  In
order to skip that process but still to allow me to use the typewriter, my husband bought an Optical
Character Recognition computer program which would scan my typescript and convert it to a computer
document, thus keeping everyone happy.  Although he purchased it several months ago, he has not installed
it yet, so I haven't used it.

    While poking around in the computer this week, I found an already existing OCR program, already
installed.  At least, that's what I think it is.  I monkeyed around with it for a while, but I couldn't figure out
how to use it, at least not in time for this week's column.  I decided, instead, to do what folks have been
urging me to do for many months: to attempt to use the word-processor program.

    So far, so good.  I admit that it is much simpler to correct my many mis-strokes with this gizmo; I
can also go back and fix errors in the earlier portion of the text.  Cool.  Somehow, though, it just doesn't
feel
the same as writing with a typewriter, not as literary, or something.  It feels more like I'm sending someone
a very long e-mail, more ephemeral, much less concrete than putting words down on actual paper.  And I
miss the sounds of the typewriter, the popping of the keys as they hit the paper and the ding! of the carriage
return.  The action of the keys is also entirely different, too soft, too easy.

    There are other things which might go wrong with this experiment in making life easier for the
folks at the paper.  For one thing, I haven't figured out how to double-space my lines, so, instead of my
usual three pages of type, I'm aiming for one-and-a-half, and hoping the column comes out to its usual
length.  I set the margins at one inch all around; maybe that's why I can't see the entire length of my earlier
lines on the screen.  I'm using the WordPad program instead of Word proper, but I think this will "save" to
a
disk in Word format, which is what the NB News uses, and they will be able to re-structure it into columns
with the touch of a button, as they do, I think, with submissions by people who are living in the 21st Century
and using its technology instead of stuck back in the Sixties like I am.  Nevertheless, I plan to print out a
hard copy, just in case I've messed it up to the point where it all needs to be typed over, anyway.

    Ah... the computer has just reminded me of another reason I don't like to word-process.  While
writing, I often pause to ponder my ideas for the next paragraph.  My train of thought was just derailed by
the appearance of the screen saver, automatically making life easier by keeping my screen from burning out.
Never mind that at the same time, it made my life more difficult by interrupting my concentration.
My mother just got a new computer and went online, which was supposed to make her life easier
by allowing her to do more work at home instead of driving in to the office during winter weather.  Perhaps
it will eventually fulfill this purpose, but right now it's giving her conniptions while she learns all over again
how to do things that she could do in her sleep on her old computer.  I'm not much help, either, because I
don't know why I can send and receive links and images to and from everyone but her.  Pesky, pesky
computer!

    This trade-off between frustration and convenience is nothing new in the world of electronics; how
many of you have a VCR that is still flashing "12:00" because it's too much trouble to figure out how to set
the clock?  And why is it that no two microwaves in the world operate the same way?  CD players are
equally guilty; I recently ran across one that had so many "simplified" command buttons that I couldn't get it
to work.  It kept automatically shutting its drawer before I was through loading the disks, and the volume
control, while it looked like a knob that one could turn smoothly, was actually set up to work by turn-and-
release increments.  I don't get it; why are so many electronic controls designed to be counter-intuitive?

    The list goes on: heaven help you if you have a TV that has remote-control functions and you
misplace the remote; on some models, you can't even change channels if this happens.  No one I know uses
an electric can-opener anymore, after making too many cans impossible to open at all once the cutting
wheel malfunctions and screws up the can.  Food processors save you time and make slicing and chopping
easier, but one must work fifteen times longer and harder to clean them, as opposed to just washing off a
knife.  Are these things really making our lives easier?

    Granted, I have nothing negative to say about my Maytag automatic washing machine; I love it and
I would not want to go back to using a wringer washer, no way.  I still own a treadle sewing machine that I
use for heavy jobs or ones that must be done very slowly, like replacing the zipper in a cabin tent, but I use
my electric one more often.  Now that we'll have to dial 10 digits to make a local telephone call, I'll
probably use my rotary phones in an "answer only" capacity; a couple of them are like that already, because
the dials are too stiff and sticky to return properly.  I have one cordless phone that I'm familiar with and
willing to use, but again, why don't they all work they same way?

     Cellular phones are totally out of the question for me, especially in the car.  I have enough to do
there already, what with tuning the radio, putting in tapes, lighting cigarettes, drinking coffee, and putting
on lipstick, all while keeping an eye on the road.  Don't give me a satellite location device, please; I'd rather
pull off the road and look at a map.  It's a lot easier than figuring out how to work the radar.

    Christmas is coming, and, while my friends and relatives know better than to get me anything too
electronically complicated, I'm sure many of you will be giving and receiving lots of wonderful gizmos that
are intended to save time and energy.  So I wish you all Happy Holidays, and seal this with a cautionary
KISS: Keep It Simple, Stupid.  It makes life easier.

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