My mother gave me an old Smith Corona typewriter and some basic instruction on “touch typing” when I was 10 and I was soon pecking away.
When I starting turning in assignments in school on typewritten pages some of my teachers starting asking if my mother was taking my handwritten notes and retyping them. In more than one case I had to sit down with one or two to prove that I could type.
By the time I entered the “personal use” typing class at Floyd County High School, I was already typing at more than 100 words a minute. I later took secretarial typing classes to sharpen my skills.
When it came to writing, I could not compose and essay or story without a keyboard in front of me. I’ve been sitting at one for more than half a century.
Typing, of course, was necessary to be a newspaperman back in the 1950s and 60s. Many learned to type in the “touch system.” Others could type as fast with self-thought “hunt and peck” methods. I used a typewriter to write stories for The Farmville Herald, the Floyd Press and The Roanoke Times.
“The best way to write is to type like you talk,” Floyd Press owner and editor Pete Hallman taught me when he hired me as a reporter for the Floyd Press while I was a student at Floyd County High School.
My first byline had come even earlier in a piece about trying to learn in segregated Prince Edward County schools where public schools were closed to present integration and an all-white private school became the only way to earn a high school diploma for whites while blacks had no schools.
The Roanoke Times gave me a column — one aimed at the “younger generation” during my time there. I continued to write personal opinion columns, along with news stories and features, as a reporter, columnist and photographer for The Telegraph in Alton, Illinois.
Those of us who could type produced stories for newspapers and for radio and television reports.
That was then. This is now, when just about everyone has a keyboard for their personal computer at home or at school or a laptop or uses their thumbs to type on a smart phone.
Text messages are the way to “talk” now for so many. News, if it can be called that, too often comes not from reading a newspaper or from hearing or watching news on television or radio but from partisan web sites, blogs or social media on the Internet.
Conversations, if they can be called such, exist more on Facebook than on the phone or in person. We “talk” with people via texting or email.
Such “conversations” become heated arguments with coarse language, insults and obscenities.
Political candidates use Facebook or Twitter to issue statements or positions on issues. Donald Trump uses the same mediums to hurl diatribes at opponents and targets of his scorn.
Locally, a plethora of Facebook “groups” have names like “Floyd Unbiased” or “FU” which, of course, is is an intentional double meaning. Four letter words abound. So do insults.
Twice in the past week, I got caught up in a thread started by a pastor but turned into a tsunami of political stereotypes, bias and — in my opinion — bigotry by others. It got out of hand, again in my opinion, and I removed my comments and made a personal pledge to myself to avoid any future confrontations there.
A keyboard, a means of communication for my professional life, has become a dangerous tool to inflame, insult and insinuate rather than inform, enlighten or invite rational interchange of thought.
As a reporter, I use a keyboard to write articles based on interviews, research and observation. On social media, the often emotional exchanges are driven not by a desire to inform but to “have the last word” or out-insult someone.
That is not real conversation or an attempt at rational debate. I’m as guilty as anyone for getting caught up in the emotion rather than a reasoned discussion on an issue.
When I write a story for a newspaper, it is edited, fact-checked and reviewed before publication. I write for some news web sites where editors and others, even lawyers, get a crack at approval before posted.
I also now have others — including my more reasoned and rational wife and partner — review what I write for Blue Ridge Muse.
Too much of what appears on social media is immediate and too often reactionary comments typed in the heat of argument that probably wouldn’t even be said in a face-to-face discussion. Bias becomes a tool to inflame, not inform.
So s delayed New Year’s Resolution now exists here. My use of Facebook will be used only to pass on information, with links, to the sources and little more. Some of those sources might be items that I have written elsewhere but I will not engage in discussion or “debate” with anyone via keyboard.
Same for Twitter or online forums. I will answer questions when asked but any question that begins with an insult will be ignored.
Got something to discuss? Let’s try something new: Talk about it, face to face. Let’s avoid the hyperbole of social media because what occurs way too often is really “unsocial” and unacceptable in what is supposed to be “polite” society.
I’m at breakfast many mornings at Blue Ridge Restaurant. I’m at high school sporting events photographing for The Floyd Press, in court most Tuesdays covering cases for the paper or at The Friday Night Jamboree or other such events week in and week out.
Who knows? We might learn a lot more from each other as a result.