O'BRIEN: It won't be long until some of the stuff we use today finds its way to the typewriter's graveyard

Posted: Jan. 29, 2013 7:25 am Updated: Mar. 12, 2013 9:15 am

As I went to hang up my coat one day last week in the outer office, I couldn't help but notice what was lying at the bottom of the rack.

The big, bulky device had a dust cover on it with the word "Swintec." The thing looked vaguely familiar. I went to go pick it up but wanted to make sure I could lift it. Having suffered through some back woes, I didn't want to throw it out. The thing weighed less than 10 pounds, so my back didn't crack. As I took the dust cover off, I noticed a relic that once dominated newsrooms, offices and schools -- a typewriter.

"Jana," I said to our newsroom receptionist, pointing to the typewriters. "When was the last time you used this thing?"

Jana figured it has been at least 10 years since she had fired it up.

"It would be nice to use to type up a label, but who would want to take it out and plug it in?" Jana told me.

It was a Swintec 4040 electronic version. And it still works. I found two pages of paper and started to type away. In the span of three minutes, I made about a dozen typos and wound up screwing up all of the margins. By the time I was done, the machine was beeping at me nonstop. A used Swintec 4040 can be had for between $35 and $50 online. I hope I didn't hurt the resale value.

When was the last time the typewriter was part of our everyday lives? I remember taking a keyboarding class at Galesburg High School in the late 1980s. We used typewriters to practice our craft. I'm thankful I did. It taught me all about the home row. Considering that I've typed millions of words in my life, it was probably one of the most important classes I took in high school.

Actually, the most important class that anyone took at Galesburg High School was building trades. Thankfully, a couple buddies took it the semester before I had a big house party when my parents went out of town for a week the summer after my senior year. While they were in Wall Drug, someone punched a hole in wall in my twin brother's room. My building trades buddies fixed that baby right up, and my parents didn't find out about the party until years later. But that's another column for another day. (Seriously, parents should not leave their 18-year-olds home alone for a week with zero supervision. Only bad things will happen.)

Back to typewriters. I'm guessing I last used one to do a few papers at Eastern Illinois University in the early 1990s. The school paper, the Daily Eastern News, used computers, as has every company I've worked for since. I bet it's been 20 years since I had to reach for some White Out to cover up one of my typewritten mistakes. I'm guessing we haven't had to buy any White Out for the supply cabinet at The Herald-Whig for quite some time.

Believe it or not, it won't be long until dust covers are draped across our desktop and laptop computers. We are all migrating to smaller, faster computers. Things like smartphones and tablets are in the process of making desktops and laptops obsolete. Intel recently announced it will phase out making desktop motherboards over the next three years. There were so few new laptops on display at the International Consumer Electronics Show earlier this month in Las Vegas that the popular technology website Gizmodo could barely give a "Best of Show" for the class.

If I wanted to buy a wireless keyboard to go with my iPhone and iPad, I could easily do everything on those devices that I do on my work desktop and the laptop that we have at home.

When will we know that the laptops and desktops have met their match for good? When we find them at the bottom of the coat rack.




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