Writing was more of a sensory experience when I was younger than it is today. In middle school, I would use a pencil (a pen if I was lucky) and write notes in a paper notebook. After filling a page, I’d turn it to find it bumpy on the other side. I’d run my hand over it, feeling the imprint of my words, my thoughts, pressed down in for all time. I still like to use a spiral notebook and pen. It’s gotten more sophisticated, though. These days, I use a luxurious (and yet inexpensive) gel pen that glides gracefully across the page. It has to in order to keep up with my thoughts. There is an added benefit. Do you know they say you are more creative when you write long hand? You’re utilizing the right side of your brain–the side that controls creativity– when you do. You use the left side–the analytical side–when you type. Since we need to use both sides of our brain, we should know how to both write long hand and type.
I learned to touch type in high school. Of all the classes I’ve taken, that one has served me (still serves me) the best, even after thirty years. I use this skill everyday. But it has changed. It’s not the same sensory experience it was back then either. In class,we typed on electric typewriters. We would learn the home keys first, alternating hands. A, ;, s, l, d, k, and so on. And we could hear ourselves. Clicking and clacking away. We would practice the “widget drill” with Mista Foley (he was from Massachusetts, you know), wrapping on the desk with the long wooden pointer, calling out the letters we were to type without looking at the keys. Clickety-clack. Even those electric typewriters were easier than their predecessors, the manual typewriters, where you had to press the keys much more forcefully. Not only were manual typewriters “noisier,” the keys also left impressions on the paper. Electric not as much, but you could still hear yourself more than you can today.
When I started using a laptop, I was uncomfortable. It was too easy. I barely had to press the keys to type words into being. It was too quiet. I wondered if I’d be able to write loud enough for people to hear my ideas. Still do.
We’ve lost something in our quiet keyboards. Do we notice the weight of our fingers on the keys? The weight of our words? The sound of our own selves putting words on paper. Putting words–ideas– in the universe. Usually we don’t even write on paper anymore. In essence, we write in the air now. Silently tap, tap, tapping our thumbs on our smooth phones. Our thoughts going almost directly from our heads to our screens. No sound or sensation in between. Without feeling ourselves pressing thoughts into communications, without hearing the lyrical clickety-clack, we might wonder if we still leave an impression for posterity. Words still have weight. They can slay or edify, discourage or inspire. Our words leave impressions even if they don’t leave physical impressions on paper. We might not hear them initially, but our thoughts might just echo through time.