It was 1984, one year into my freelance writing career, and I was piecing together my first article for Mademoiselle magazine. And I mean piecing together: the 1500-word story was hot off my portable Smith Corona electric typewriter, and I was snipping it apart, paragraph-by-paragraph, and arranging each one like a puzzle piece, on my living room floor.
“What are you DOING?” asked a friend who stopped by to visit.
“I’m editing!” I chirped, proud of my ingenious method for reorganizing copy.
“You need a computer.”
“Ohhh, no, no,” I said, as if hearing that I needed a root canal. “I like my typewriter.”
“You need to be able to work faster if you’re going to be a freelancer.”
“I really don’t like computers.”
“Have you ever used one?”
“Get a Macintosh. They’re made for people like you.”
I followed my friend to the Apple store, and as he promised, the Macintosh 128K smiled at me when we turned it on. I purchased it, along with a dot matrix printer, and set them up in my home office, giddy with excitement. “No more WhiteOut, no more scissors!” I sang. I took to word processing instantly, feeling like a champ for overcoming my computer-phobia.
Little did I expect the computing challenges I would face, especially during these isolated days of Covid-19 , when maintaining community — professional and otherwise — requires a hearty embrace of digital technology.
If I were to examine my brain under a microscope, I’d undoubtedly find the side that drives my aptitude for technology to be flabby and pea-sized, compared to the larger, more muscular side that drives my creative and personal relationship skills. Indeed, I’ve had a successful career, all while maintaining paper appointment and address books, ignoring requests to send calendar invites and dismissing the ones I receive.
Computing doesn’t come naturally to me. But what I lack in technology chops I’ve got in determination. As a young newspaper reporter in the mid-1980s, I acheived a fair degree of competency on the Atex machine that I operated to read the AP wires and file stories. During my graduate student days a decade later, I pushed myself to learn how to conduct research on the Internet. By the time I resumed freelancing, I had become a web-surfing, emailing enthusiast, all with the help of my trusty Macintosh 128K, which I clung to until the day it frowned at me.
Of course, I would eventually and shamefully discover that comfort with Microsoft Word, Google and e-mail does not equal computer proficiency. Because these were the only tools I ever really needed, however, I lulled myself into believing that I was technology adept. It wasn’t until I found myself fumbling with basic computer functions, applications and social media platforms that I realized how much catching up I had to do.
For example, I’ve only recently learned how to message people on social media, and I’m not happy to confess that setting up my Goodreads Author’s page took me a couple of days. And don’t even ask what it was like for me to try — and fail — to join a meeting on Zoom.
Yet, thanks to coronavirus, I have plenty of time to practice these and many other computer skills. If I stick with it, I trust that I will boost my professional profile, not to mention my connectedness, which is especially critical now.
So, I’m not giving up. I do still occassionally miss my Smith Corona. On the other hand, I did learn to love my Macintosh 128K.