I Was There

Nothing can make a person feel old as reading the history of events for which one was present.  This is the case with Carliner’s Computers and Technical Communication in the 21st Century in Digital Literacy for Technical Communication by Rachel Spilka.  As I read the history of technical communicators and the evolution of computers, one thought stood out: I was there.

I was there when mainframe and mini computers were used in banking. Right out of high school, I worked for a bank whose mainframe computer was housed at another location and connected to our minis via telephone line.  I remember how awed we were when our computer buzzed and a pop up window opened with the Digital Tech style font from someone at the main branch.  That was the earliest form of texting and we thought we were very advanced, technologically. 


Photo Credit: Sevenels.net

When I wrote for a newspaper, many years ago, I turned my copy in to the typist who would type it and submit it and send it back to be arranged on actual newspaper sized pages. When we created ads, we didn’t use computers. We designed them by paging through hundreds of volumes of “clip art.”  When we found what we wanted to use, we would photo copy it.  Our copiers were the best in the business.  We would enlarge or reduce the size of the art with the copier.  For words, we would submit in writing what we needed printed.  One person would create the copy, and we used the copiers to manipulate the size of the font.  We would then cut it out and glue it with our artwork into a specific sized ad to be glued on larger sheets that made up the newspaper.  Many years later, when I took a group of students to tour the newspaper, I was envious of the ease at which the writers could create and submit their pieces.  The advertising art department was much smaller and didn’t involve glue and scissors.  I’m not sure if they’re still called “Paste Up Artists,” but they now use Photoshop, Illustrator, and other software to create the art.

I learned HTML so that I could write up nice adds for Ebay. Today, I can use Ebay without having to write code.  I was one of those people that Carliner described, buying the cheapest PC I could find (IBM Aptiva).  I watched as companies that I worked for purchased technology packages and had people come in and set up systems, teaching us all how to use new software.  I noticed when mainframes gave way to PC’s, and I sat in meetings where we discussed which software would serve our needs best.  As I read through the chapters, I recognized each significant change and phase since I had also experienced it. I used libraries instead of Google, typewriters instead of word processing software, correction tape instead of a delete key, and glue & scissors instead of Photoshop.  I was there to watch the technological revolution (and I’m still young).


Spilka, Rachel. (2010). Computers and technical communication in the 21st century. Digital literacy for technical communicators. Taylor & Francis. New York, NY.

Sevenel.net. (2016). Machines of loving grace.  http://sevenels.net/typewriters/royals.htm. Retrieved on September 24, 2016.

Posted on September 25, 2016, in Social Media. Bookmark the permalink. 4 Comments.

  1. Thank you for sharing your experiences and observations.

    I love your description of literally copying and pasting physical pieces of paper. Sometimes, when I’m having trouble visualizing how I want a document to look, I’ll follow a similar process: print out the page and all the elements, cut out the elements and physically move them around on the page until they look right.

    I have tons of respect for page setters, paste-uppers, typesetters–anyone whose job it was to make pages look right before modern desktop publishing. The attention to detail required must have been second only to the amount of time it took to get everything just right. My parents had a printing press (similar to this one: http://www.timtim.com/public/images/drawings/large/2949_Printing-Press.gif ) and thousands of drawers of wood and lead movable type. I learned firsthand the labor of love that went into printing.

    I find it interesting that you no longer need to use HTML for Ebay listings. In my experience with WYSIWYG editors (primarily WordPress these days), I almost always need to go into the “HTML” mode on the editor if I’m doing anything more complicated than, say, basic headings and text. Even though my grasp of it is pretty rudimentary, I find that raw HTML is more powerful than the editor and more flexible by far.

  2. Wow, It’s sort of amazing that you’ve been through so much of technological history. What;s your opinion of the past few decades, coming from the background of typesetting and typewriters? I imagine it’s very different than those of us who grew up or at least were in our formative years with some form of easy access technology.

  3. This are excellent details and perhaps even the start of an idea for your final paper. While those need to be research-based, an autobiographical/auto-ethnographic take on the field of tech comm [and journalism] would be fascinating!

  4. I like how you’ve experienced a lot of technology in your lifetime! That gives me hope that I’ll experience a shift like what you experienced with whatever new technology will come up next in the future.

    When you mentioned copiers and having to manipulate the look of the artwork for ads, something popped in my head: Ditto Machines–the kind that made “copies” with a light purple ink. I remember them in elementary school, particularly the ones that had a rotary dial on the side of them and they made a distinct duplicator sound. I had to search the internet to remember what they sound like. What a wonderful time we live in where I can find a video of something from decades ago instantly.

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