Mary Belk

The iceman cometh. And the iceman goeth. Along with the milkman, the blacksmith, and the buffalo soldier.

While some occupations have vanished, others have sprung up, and some jobs have been replaced by machines. There’s no way around it: change is as certain as death and taxation.

Historically, there have been those who opposed change. The Luddites, a group of early 19th century English workmen, attempted to prevent the use of labor-saving machinery by destroying it. They feared they would be replaced by technology.

A similar non-violent group started in 1992. The Lead Pencil Club is a worldwide organization, with members from San Francisco to New York City to India and Austria.

“Tools shouldn’t replace important items,” says Bill Henderson, editor of Pushcart Press and a charter member of the club. “You can’t write better on a word processor. The name indicates words are being processed. How do you process words?”

I have to agree. If we assume a person writes better on a word processor, we have to suppose that the prose of Faulkner, Welty and Steinbeck weren’t up to snuff. What about Cervantes and Dickens? Or Tolstoy? Or Austen?

Before the invention of the typewriter in 1868, writers had to crank out their words with quills, pens or pencils. After the patent of the Remington, the typewriter reigned for about a hundred years.

Now it seems the typewriter, overthrown by computers, has all but disappeared. Names like Smith-Corona and Royal are about as extinct as Pterodactyls.

Most modern writers have switched to computers, but some remain faithful to traditional methods. David McCullough pecks out his biographies on an ancient upright Underwood typewriter. Anne Tyler churns out award-winning novels with a fountain pen, while others refuse to give up sharp No. 2 pencils and legal pads.

In “Life on the Mississippi,” Mark Twain betrayed certain ambivalent attitudes he had about technology. He distrusted the machines that were transforming his world, yet at the same time he also greatly admired them.

When J & M Bookstore’s ink cartridge supply ran dry, I headed to Radio Shack and bought a Tandy 1000 computer. These days, I use a Hewlett Packard laptop. And when I’m baffled by computers, I remember that typewriters had their own problems.

My years peddling short stories through the U.S. Postal Service were frustrating. Back then, cut-and-paste meant scissors and glue, not useful for editing. Editors had strict submission guidelines. With each typo, I’d rip out the page, twist in a new sheet, and start over.

And editors wanted to know the number of words. There was no Tool Bar to click on and scroll down to word count, so I was stuck with counting each word.

At times, I think I’d love to be a Luddite; however, I’ve found that even though writing isn’t made better on a computer, editing is a breeze. And, as much as I miss my IBM Selectric, I’ve decided I prefer pounding out words on my laptop.

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