Wednesday, August 3, 2011

IBM Selectric Celebrates 50th Anniversary (Despite Obsolescence)

Mercy, it seems just like yesterday... okay, well, not really... IBM’s game-changing Selectric typewriter hasn’t been manufactured for 25 years, but Tuesday marked the machine’s 50th anniversary.

I'm bashful to admit it, but I actually learned to type in the seventh grade on a manual typewriter; the Selectric would have been a big step up for my nimble little fingers.

In the 1980s, when I worked as Features Editor for my college newspaper at James Madison University, we used an MDT, a kickass cutting-edge computer that depended upon those huge ole floppy disks to save and transfer files. That was the big time.

Then, for my first journalism job at the Washington Business Journal in D.C. 1985, I took a backward step, composing stories on an IBM Selectric, which were then edited by hand before they were routed to a typesetter—that is, a real person—who manually retyped every word into a computer. Newspaper columns were then spit out on paper to be waxed and manually laid out on a template for printing.

The Selectric was groundbreaking for its little aluminum "golf ball" that spun around to type the correct letter. It was so profound in the workplace that it was awarded its own U.S. stamp for designer Eliot Noyes... How in god's name did we ever get anything done in those days?