Learning to type, when I learned to type, meant learning to become a typist. The premise on which typing was taught will, for some of you reading this, be foreign; there was a time when typing was a kind of suit that writers put on when it was time to go out into the world. One wrote in long hand and had work typed as a matter of course, and only at the end.
It’s important enough to repeat: there was once an end to writing, an outside to the writer’s inside, or at least we were taught there was. Typing was the end of writing. To type was to focus on something already written, to lock onto it with your eyes, letter by letter, to finger each letter at the keyboard, and to know, more through sound than sight (of course you didn’t look), that you’d faithfully reproduced it on paper. Typing required all your senses to be engaged together, and to share the work between them: your gaze focused on the scrawls of pen, your fingers feeling for the key offsets from ‘F’ and ‘J’, your ears detecting the telltale sign of multiple key strikes where only one was expected. I was taught that writing ceased in typing. The typist looked into the past, into what was written, not into what was being produced. Nothing is produced in typing, only reproduced.
Typing today is something quite different. I’m typing even now, as I contemplate this sentence, as I wander through this thought I hope to write. The thing I want to say is not yet available. I have no way to look into it, as though it were somehow solid and approachable. I’m left to pull it out of what is already before me on the screen. I have no access to a past that might comfort or control me. The typewriter has been replaced with the writer. Writing no longer ends in typing; writing no longer ends.
I’m unclear if they still teach typing. Is it simply the great prerequisite for all writing today? I grew up at a time where it still made sense to have both a computer and a typewriter in our house. They weren’t the same thing, and you’d want both for different tasks. It wasn’t yet clear, when I learned to type, that only one would be needed going forward. I learned to type and to write, and it wasn’t yet clear that only one would be needed going forward.