Typewriters suck. Yet we're infinitely richer for those irritating machines

The invention of backspace made us all better off. Right?


Expert: a has-been drip under pressure? More like a Luddite

So, while we might have faster computers in the figures, we might not have backspace. Or, in something different, we do have changes in price of fruit and veg but we've not got the near year-round availability of everything in the lifestyle/inflation figures.

It's just, from my point of view, interesting to have a workable example of how much more difficult it was to do something back then in this form of a typewriter emulator.

The second economic point is that this neatly shows the dual effects of advancing technology. On the one hand, all this computer stuff has produced the priestly caste which makes up the readership of this 'ere mag. As the car produced the caste of mechanics and chauffeurs that were the experts capable of making the technology work, so computing brings you, dear Register readers, into being.

But as also happens with new technology, once we've got past those initial decades where only the Illuminati can operate it, we end up destroying the jobs of the experts of the previous technology.

The car did lead to an explosion in the number of experts to drive and maintain them. But, proportionate to the number of vehicles, the current number of those experts is very much lower than the number of expert coachmen who were required to operate the earlier transport technology. We have, if you like, concentrated the expertise and then made the technology simple enough for any old fool to operate it.

And so it has been with computing. It really wasn't all that long ago that to get anything useful out of a computer you needed to be an expert. Nowadays most fools can operate one out of the box; at least, for tasks such as word processing or taking a picture. Yet a play-around with that emulator will show the level of skill that was required to produce even a reasonable copy of a document before computers. Being able to crack out a good copy wasn't something that backspace could aid you in tripping through: one error and the entire page had to be done again (well, OK, cue old joke about office typist applying liquid paper to her screen).

That is, in a nutshell, advancing technology. After passing a stage where it's very much more complicated than whatever it is replacing, it really turns skilled jobs into unskilled ones. The skill and the complexity is now in the machine, not in the knowledge of the operator.

As someone who still doesn't touch type I'm rather glad about that, really. How much richer that has made us is highly arguable, but what isn't is that the accumulation of such innovations has made us richer, whatever the bald numbers about our wages seem to show. ®


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