Brother, Where Art Thou on Craigslist? (A Post About Word Processors)

One day, you'll stop running. One day, you'll come back to us.
One day, you’ll stop running. One day, you’ll come back to us.

A few days ago, I wrote:

“If you’re roughly my age, we may share some of these academic distinctions:

  • last or close-to-last class of students to attend various Cold War or pre-war era schools before their 90s and 2000s-riffic renovations. (Elementary school, high school, college)
  • last or close-to-last class to take a typing elective where actual typewriters were used. (9th grade, but I didn’t really learn to type until I started using AIM the next year.) Possibly the last class to even be offered a typing elective.
  • last class to run DOS in a computer applications class. (10th grade)
  • last class to run DOS-based email and instant messaging on campus servers. (college)”
He ain’t heavy.

What I didn’t mention was that before I learned to type (and before my family got our first home PC) we had a Brother word processor, a fantastic 80’s device that combined the functionality of a computer with none of the fun. Still, as a budding writer, I was mystified by the green and black interface and by the mechanical goodness of the printing process, which pounded out every word and punctuation mark with austere, efficient resolve.  If you love the visceral feel of typewriter mechanics and, for whatever reason, the ability to edit typos before they actually print, brother, these things were for you.

I saw a featured post on the WordPress homepage today that took me back to the days of digital input and ribbon printing.  Dr. J asks, and thankfully answers, the defining question of word processing’s transitional age: “Mr. Owl, how many spaces really DO go after the period?”  One, he says.  Just one.

Sir, I think I must respectfully disagree.  See what I mean? Too close. Too close for comfort. My sentences need room to breathe, friend.  Like this.  And this.   Maybe not this, though I was first taught to do three spaces. This just feels wrong.  This is the good stuff.

Because I wanted to include a picture of a Brother word processor in this post, I found this excellent Craigslisting:

Brother Portable Daisy Wheel Word Processor – $35

Brother Word Processor WP- 2600 able to save document on discs, print, & see other worksheets, etc on the screen. Great for someone beginning to learn keyboard typing & doesn’t have access to computer. Prints & saves documents.

WP-2600Q

Whisper Print ultra quiet daisy wheel system
Standard 3.5″ 720KB disk drive for MS-DOS file compatibility with PC’s
Allows transfer to ASCII files
Allows conversion of spreadsheets to LOTUS 1-2-3 WK1 files
Double column printing
Icon main menu
Dual screen capability
Allows you to view two files simultaneously and exchange information between them
Easy to read 5″x9″ (15 lines by 91 character) CRT display with contrast adjustment
Special features
GrammarCheck I with “word-spell” 70,000 word dictionary and 204 programmable user words
Punctuation alert
Redundancy check
Word count
45,000 word thesaurus
Easy access pull down menus
On screen help function
Spreadsheet software
Framing
Uses Model 1030 correctable ribbon and Model 3010 correction tape
Bold and expanded print
Block copy/move/delete
Auto save
Automatic “Word-Out” and “Line-Out” correction system erases a single word or a complete line
Automatic relocation after correction
Direct and line-by-line typing to handle labels and envelopes
Full line lift-off correction memory
Disk copy allows you to copy text from one disk to another
$35 Cash

—-

I’m not too enthused about the ultra quiet daisy wheel print system, but this post does a great job of showing us all the features that made these things practical for people who didn’t want or need a personal computer back in the day.  What a fantastic hybrid of nineteenth and twentieth century innovations, you are, Word Processor.  Even if you have no place in the 21st century market place, you’ll always have one in my heart.  Shine on, you crazy diamond!

In honor of you, and of the icy, wintry mix outside, I offer proof of how badly we needed you:

Life before Brother.
The minimalist artistry and pristine presentation of life with you, old friend.

Generation X.2

If you’re roughly my age, we may share some of these academic distinctions:

  • Last or close-to-last class of students to attend various Cold War or pre-war era schools before their sometimes dubious 90s and 00s renovations.  (Elementary school, high school, college)
  • Last or close-to-last class to take a typing elective with actual typewriters. (9th grade, but I didn’t really learn to type until I started using AIM the next year.) Possibly the last class to even be offered a typing elective.
  • Last class to run DOS in a computer applications class. (10th grade)
  • Last class to run DOS-based email and instant messaging on campus servers. (college)

Presumed shared cultural experiences:

  • Old enough to have been into late 80s/early 90s music the first time, young enough to have looked up to the people who made it.  Old enough to have been into mid-80s music the first time, young enough to have had no way of buying it yourself.
  • Were in elementary school, not high school, when Bad came out.
  • Were in junior high, not college, when Kurt Cobain died.
  • Were the last group of kids to make mixtapes.  While the older and younger ends of Generation X differ in significant ways, this is one thing we all did right along with you, John Cusack.
  • Saw your first Molly Ringwald movie on VHS (or TBS), not at a theatre.
  • Your first John Hughes movie was more likely Uncle Buck or Home Alone than Sweet Sixteen or The Breakfast Club

Political memories:

  • the Soviets were scary until the end of elementary school. There was a Berlin Wall.

If you were born between, say, 1977 and 1982, a lot of this might hold true for you.  Most  commentators put those years within the Generation X set, and when I was a kid, I  thought that was the coolest.  But when I think of Generation X these days, I think of 40- year-olds, people who were in college in the early 90s (yes, I think of Lisa Bonet, don’t  you?), who were teenagers in all those Brat Pack movies.  I don’t think of people who are  about to or have only recently turned 30.  I don’t think of people our age. [Ed. note: I wrote and posted this 4 years ago.  I’m almost 35 now. Time only goes faster.]

Granted, generational definitions are sort of meaningless and almost always vast: the Baby Boomers are said to have been born between the mid-40s and mid-60s. What does that even mean?  Still, I’m with everyone who calls people in their 80s and 90s now The Greatest Generation.  They’re a group of people who went through it all and still had energy left over in their 60s and 70s to help take care of us. They were united by the Depression, the living memory of one World War, the coming and hell of another, and in many cases, the added hardships and injustices of recent immigration.

“Come Undone” was my first Duran Duran single. You do the math.

What binds, say, the Boomers?  Not being their parents?  What binds Generation X?  Music? Movies? Pop culture references and ironic savvy?  Being the first generation to have two parents working outside of the home as a norm? Birth years, as they relate to generational labels, seem now like unruly sundry cohorts lumped together with too much ease.  In our case, perhaps Generation X contains everyone as old as Eddie Vedder down to everyone young enough to have bought Ten in middle school.  Said the other way, perhaps it contains us and everyone 10-13 years older than us that made the music, television, movies we still love and reference.

Even so, I’d like to suggest a parsing of our Generation.  1967-72: X.0. 72-77: X.1. 77-82: X.2 and so on. 82-85? Y.0.

I was talking with my friend Tim, who I’ve known since 1986 or so, about some of these things on Facebook a few days ago.  He had some interesting suggestions for a post about things we experienced that our kids never will. I’ll follow up with more on that in the next few days.  By the way, free knucklesandwiches to anyone who starts calling them Generation Z.  How about Generation More Awesome Than Superman, Spider-Man, Batman, and The Hulk Combined?