A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Computer

After our entire writers’ worlds moved online this past spring, I was stunned to realize that I am actually surviving–even thriving–in Cyber Land (with a few spectacular exceptions). Over the span of just a few short, er…decades, this Chick has come a long way, baby!

Because my dad was a devoted employee of the IBM Corporation for 40 years, you’d think I might have had a jump on the whole computer thing as a kid. I’m sure that’s what he hoped, anyway. But by the time I hit my teens, when computers were still large enough to fill entire rooms, even my dad had to admit that my career path was headed in an opposite, far less lucrative direction.

One day in the 70s, long before Take Our Daughters to Work Day, I got to visit my dad’s office. Walking through a series of doors that opened like the ones that greeted Maxwell Smart was cool (and mildly unsettling), but I knew right away that I’d entered a very different world. The office was filled with men in suits, white shirts and black rimmed glasses and secretaries who looked like they’d stepped out of Mad Men. A few of the younger, male employees in the advertising department wore blue shirts and aviators, with their hair just a tad below their ears, but they were definitely in the minority. Apparently the dress code hadn’t changed much from when my dad started his career in the 40s selling typewriters. (Here’s a pic of the wives, too, just for fun.)

I met with a lot of people that day. They were all very polite, and told me there were great opportunities coming up for women in the computer field. Or maybe I could go into sales or become a Personnel Director like my dad. But one of my “interviewers” (I was still in high school) was different. He was the editor-in-chief of Think magazine, and his office was lined with books. “Your dad tells me you’re a writer,” he said, taking a puff on his pipe. Then he pulled a book out of his drawer and pushed it across his desk to me. “You’ll need this,” he said. “Good luck.” I still have the book. A classic:

I didn’t actually interact with any computers in college, other than the odd game of Treasure Hunt (1982). To do so, I would have had to take Computer Science 101. It was offered by the math department, so I didn’t bother reading the catalog description. I did, however, keep my roommates company during their all-nighters in the computer lab, as they created and trashed endless punch cards and prayed their programming would finally work.

After I graduated and started working in publishing, I found myself facing a familiar logo on a daily basis: IBM, courtesy of my Selectric typewriter. All was well, until we assistants on Editorial Row had our precious typewriters removed, and replaced with the ugly, chunky beige machines we were told would make our jobs a breeze–once we got used to them.

It took a while, with a lot of computer switches (publishers can never decide: to Mac or not to Mac?) and manuals and training classes on the relentless march toward Desktop Publishing. None of us editors really understood that concept, until we received the news: We were going to edit directly on our screens. Bye-bye paper, they told us. Sayanora, blue pencils for editors and red for copyeditors and green for proofreaders and All. Those. Sticky. Notes.

Unfortunately, the early programs allowed us to work on only a paragraph or so at a time. It was a disaster. Some editors tried hard to embrace the new technology. Others complained. Some quit. A few cried. They couldn’t edit that way, they said. It didn’t feel the same. The mystified suits threw up their hands. “Creatives,” they muttered. But a new line was added to the budget: Freelancers to input authors’ mss.—with our edits—into the computer. Then those pages were printed out, and the copyeditors went to work. The sticky notes remained (so much fun to photocopy).

Soon after, a new drive began toward digital books. The publisher I worked for was developing its own e-reader. We editors got to test out an early prototype one weekend, because they wanted the opinion of diehard readers. Early Monday morning, a development person knocked on my office door. “So, what did you think?” he asked eagerly.  I told him (politely) that I hated it. And it didn’t work in sunlight. Apparently the other editors agreed, because the developers went back to the drawing board—and then abandoned the idea altogether.

Eventually, we all embraced—or at least learned to live with—the Dread Technology. Cut to the present: I am the author of an e-book mystery series. I’m a proud blogger here at Chicks on the Case. I enjoy interacting with readers and fellow writers on social media and take classes and attend conferences virtually. And I own an online business where I edit clients’ mss. solely on-screen, through the miracle of Track Changes.

How did this happen? I’m not really sure. Yeah, some days I want to throw my laptop against the wall. But that would be a mistake, I think.

Daddy, if you and my old bosses could see me now.

Readers, what is your favorite new (or future) technology–or would you prefer a time machine pre-set to the past?


43 thoughts on “A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Computer

  1. Love these stories! A programmer at my old job was telling me about punch cards once. She recalled a time when she was carrying her program (is that what they called them?) to another building and ended up dropping all the cards. It sounded painful, much like your old editing days. It makes me wonder how much things will change in the next thirty years.

    Liked by 7 people

    1. Thanks, Marla—and yep, card-dropping was a sure disaster (I would have done that, too, right in a snowbank.) I’m pretty sure they had to be fed in order, but all the little punches (rectangular, to save space) looked the same to me.

      Liked by 3 people

  2. Yes! Those mags used to be a treat for me, but now I’m, like, that celebrity lost weight/got married/broke up with her boyfriend 20 mins ago already. Ho-hum.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. I can’t write by hand anymore because eventually I need to type the words into a doc and then I completely rewrite them. Computers have rewired my brain—eek! Or maybe that’s a good thing?

      Liked by 4 people

    1. Thank you, Art. Your kind words mean so much to me, especially since I am a huge fan of each and every piece of your writing I’ve had the fortune to read.

      Liked by 6 people

  3. Thanks for the trip down Memory Lane, Lisa! I took the first computer class my high school ever offered. It was spring of 1984, my senior year, programming in Basic. I didn’t touch a computer again until grad school in the early 90’s. I’d save my papers on a 3 1/2 inch disk with all of 144 mg of memory and print them out at the computer lab on campus.
    Now, I save everything to the cloud and send documents to the printer next to my desk at home. Indeed, how times have changed!

    Liked by 6 people

  4. Oh my gosh, the disks!! How could I forget those? Hard or floppy, this drive/that drive, overwritten, damaged, erased, jammed—aargh! I am learning to trust the Cloud, but some days I feel more like Cameron Diaz in the movie Sex Tape.

    Liked by 6 people

  5. I learned to compose on a computer during law school (which I started in 1985), since we had to submit our moot court briefs via the dreaded new computer. (The Mac Classic had debuted in 1984.) And I was the first attorney at my law firm to have a computer.

    All the secretaries had them, because the attorneys would dictate their briefs and have the gals (and yes, they were all gals) transcribe them onto the computer and then print them out. But I cannot simply dictate something without writing it first (this explains why so many legal briefs are poorly written, by the way). So I was hand-writing the whole thing on a legal pad and then reading it into the dictaphone. Stupid.

    So I asked for a computer which they brought up for the basement, and started writing with orange letters on that beautiful black screen.

    Liked by 7 people

    1. Leslie, you would have been the tech star on Editorial Row whom everyone ran to instead of the tech staff who were annoyed by pesky, stupid questions.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. Oh, this is fabulous, Lisa! So fascinating. I love when you share tidbits about the world of editing–have you ever thought about writing a memoir? I think it would be terrific. And it is indeed amazing to consider how much has changed in terms of technology in the past few decades.

    The book-giving moment + the ending = awwwww ❤️

    Liked by 4 people

  7. Of course, one difference is that the early technology wasn’t as user friendly as it is now. Between that and learning how to use stuff, it makes sense that you are doing more today with technology than you were comfortable doing back in the day.

    Liked by 4 people

    1. So true, Mark. Of course, I like to think that the mistakes and pain and all-around HUH? moments provided by some of us forced adopters contributed to these new, e-z breezy experiences. (You’re welcome, baby tech afficianodos.)


  8. What a lovely post, Lisa! The stories are wonderful and I absolutely love the photos.

    I can still remember when we got email at work. I was like, “What is it again?” I couldn’t wrap my head around anything fancier than faxes. Now all of my work is online, including meetings, which I both love and hate.

    My favorite aspect of technology is the ability to write on a computer rather than by hand or typewriter. I can’t read my own writing and my typing “skills” meant a LOT of Wite-Out!

    Liked by 4 people

    1. Thanks, Kathy! And boy, do I appreciate a gal (see Leslie’s comment above, lol) or guy who appreciates the correct spelling of Wite Out! Heaven knows I stared at that black and white bottle often enough.

      Liked by 2 people

  9. Great post, Lisa! I still print out my manuscripts for edits. After all these years, I still bang on my keyboard like it’s a manual typewriter. And I still really miss slapping the carriage return and hearing the bell ring! (Younger folks will have no idea what that even means, lol!)

    Liked by 4 people

  10. What I really like about technology now is the Cloud (as J.C. mentioned). I don’t have to worry about losing my pages anymore. (I also like that cell phones are no longer clunkers.)

    I grew up with computing, and I do remember taking a few programming classes. I wasn’t the best at them, but it was still pretty neat when I made things work just by adding in lines of code.

    Also, I really like the luxury of having a laptop–so portable!

    Liked by 1 person

  11. Raise your hand if you got a portable typewriter as a high school graduation gift! *Raises hand.* Love this, Lisa! I got my first computer in 1985. Prior to that, when I edited my plays or magazine articles, I had to cute and paste from one draft to another. I kept White Out (Wite Out?) in business. I have never, ever looked back, except – I ALWAYS edit a hard copy of my first draft. Sorry, trees of America, but it’s essential for me.

    Liked by 4 people

  12. Gosh Lisa,
    Typewriters are the bomb! I am looking for the right vintage typewriter, to have and to hold, til death do I leave it.
    Royal Manual typewriter? Yup. IBM Selectric? (I had a fire extinguisher next to that one because on a bad day I typed 120 wpm back then) Yup. Carbon paper? Yup. Wite out (tape or liquid), and erasers with the little whisky thingy on the end? Yup. Mimeograph machines? Yup. Mag tapes? Yup. Punch Cards? Yup. Lanier Word Processor? Yup. Did them all.
    I saw my first computer in college, about the age of 24? A white television looking thing with a black screen and orange words. I go back to Lotus 1.2. And let’s not forget the dot-matrix printers that were bigger than a TV/Stereo Console!

    Liked by 4 people

    1. Yep. All those things. My friends used to tease me when we met up after work, b/c my hands were always stained with black and/or red ink from those stupid cartridges. A date once thought it was blood. Out, out, damned spot!

      Liked by 1 person

  13. And yes, I still write stuff by hand, like Leslie. I tend to forget less when I compose by hand first.
    See how I forgot to add that to my post above? Because I went straight to typing!

    Liked by 3 people

  14. Dear Lisa,

    Thanks for a great trip down memory lane! So many memories for those of us in more advanced years (60, I’m looking at you)…
    Here are some to add to the conversation, in no particular order, based on lots of different jobs at lots of military bases around the world:
    1) mimeograph machines to make copies – remember the blue/purple ink or taking tests and smearing the stuff on your hands and clothes?
    2) 5 inch floppy discs – yep, for years and years.
    3) first home computer was a ‘portable’ weighing about 25 lbs(?) – small, small green monitor on one side, with light green lettering and two 5 inch disc slots.
    4) All the variations in word processing products through the years and when the organization updated, none of the previous versions could be accessed anymore.
    5) Active Duty in Germany – 1996 – they tried a brand-new base-wide message board system on a computer platform. People posted all kinds of stuff, not thinking about being held accountable for what they wrote.

    So much has changed,


    Liked by 3 people

    1. Loved your list, Ruth. I temember seeing that green home computer with the side deal (I did not have one, needless to say). Fascinating about the all-base bulletin board. What were they thinking, ha?


  15. Every time I write a manuscript I wonder how hard it would be to do it long-hand, like some of my friends. Or even typing page by page. I know I used to write long papers like that in college, but that is just a fuzzy memory these days. I’m thankful every day for my computer. And my air conditioner. And my indoor plumbing. And my car.

    I remember going to the magical place where my dad spent his days, that fun factory known as …… an insurance company.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Bet our dads’ comapnies had the same dress code. Did you have an annual company picnic? The bomb, I tell ya. My mom was always aick that day.


      1. OHMYGAWD, I looooved the company picnic! My parents were all in at The Company. They were all friends, lived in the same neighborhood. Had entire careers together. So different from today. My hubs and I own a small printshop with just a handful of employees. Once I suggested we take everyone out for a nice dinner at christmastime and they all looked at me, horrified at the suggestion. “We work all day together and you’re gonna make us socialize too?? Ick.” And this from people who like each other! I worked at a big insurance company too, soon after college. We had a picnic as well, but they had to do it on a tuesday during work hours to get people to show up. And serve booze.

        Liked by 2 people

  16. Becky, In these times I bet people are just wishing they could go to a good old-fashioned company picnic again. Especially the fancy ones. And I’ll come to your company dinner.

    Liked by 1 person

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